Authors: Carolyn Keene
1Â A Fiery Welcome
2Â Racing the Wind
3Â Half a Clue
4Â Jeremiah's Gold
5Â In Harm's Way
6Â Friends and Neighbors
7Â A Startling Truth
8Â Piecing Things Together
9Â Ride into Danger
10Â A Mystery in the Bag
11Â A Rock-Solid Clue
12Â XMarks the Spot
13Â A Paper Trail
14Â All Together
15Â An Explosive Situation
16Â A Golden Opportunity1A Fiery Welcome
“What if lightning strikes the plane?” Bess Marvin said nervously. She leaned forward in the small aircraft and grabbed her friend Nancy Drew's arm as she spoke.
Nancy looked out the window at the black thunderhead clouds hovering just above and north of the light plane. From her seat next to the pilot, eighteen-year-old Nancy had a clear view of the gathering summer storm. Soon the clouds would block out the sun that filtered through the window and accented the red highlights in Nancy's blond hair. Below the clouds she saw the jagged peaks of Washington State's Cascade Mountains.
“I think we're safe for now,” Nancy said. She leaned around the back of her seat so she could smile at Bess, who was directly behind her. Nancy was used to reassuring her friend, who was often areluctant participant in Nancy's adventures as a detective.
Now, seeing Bess's pale face, Nancy felt a twinge of sympathy. Bess was so scared that she hadn't even bothered to brush back the lock of long blond hair that had fallen out of place and hung across her cheek. And Bess's eyes, Nancy noticed, had lost their usual sparkle.
“Your friend's right.” Their pilot, Beau Dalton Eastham, glanced over his shoulder at Bess. He was a large man, tall and sturdily built. Dark hair covered the sides of his head, but the top was bald and shiny. His straw cowboy hat hung on a special hook on the back of his pilot's seat. “The storm is a doozy, all right, but it's still quite a ways to the north,” he said. “We'll be on the ground before it gets here.”
Bess gave a deep sigh but didn't relax her grip on the back of Nancy's seat. Her fingernails were white from pressing against the metal.
“Watch it, or you'll break those precious nails,” George Fayne said lightly from her seat next to Bess. George was Bess's cousin and, like Bess, a loyal friend of Nancy. Unlike Bess, George was tall and athletic. Her short, curly, dark-brown hair was full of bounce and seemed to reflect her energetic personality. “I'm sure Mr. Eastham knows what he's doing,” George told Bess.
“Call me B.D.,” the pilot broke in. “And you really can relax. I've been flying from Seattle to Eagle Point for twenty years now, and Iâ” Hiswords were cut short as the plane seemed to drop out from under the girls. Nancy felt her stomach jump to her throat just as a flash of lightning outlined a jagged peak to the north.
Nancy turned in the direction of the scream. George's mouth was still open, as though she'd just had her breath stolen away. She was sitting up very straight in her seat. A glance at Bess's face told Nancy that her friend was too scared to say anything.
“Air pockets,” B.D. announced as he worked the controls confidently. “But don't worry. We're coming up on the airport now.”
The plane bumped three more times, as though running over rocks in the sky, before settling into a smooth descent.
“None too soon for me,” George said.
Nancy looked out her window at the single runway coming up beneath them. As the plane landed with a jolting thump, Nancy could see their hosts waiting by a dusty blue van near the airport's only hangar. One other small building stood next to the hangar. Probably an office, Nancy thought. There was no terminal building, no paved parking lot, no one except Charlie Griffin and his granddaughter, Rachel, waiting for the plane to arrive.
“This is definitely the smallest airport I've ever seen,” George said.
“It serves our needs,” B.D. said as he turned the plane in a small circle and steered toward Charlieand Rachel. “Private planes and a few small charters are all that ever come here.”
Charlie waved as the plane taxied to a stop. His hair had turned a rich silver and the creases in his face had grown deeper since Nancy had last seen him back in River Heights. He had been in Nancy's hometown to visit with her grandparents, who had enjoyed vacations at Charlie's rustic resort, Highland Retreat. Now, even in his early seventies, Charlie looked athletic and capable.
Rachel, Charlie's granddaughter, stood next to him. She was a slender teenager with fine brown hair pulled straight back in a loose ponytail. Nancy knew from her father, Carson Drew, that Rachel had been living at the retreat since her parents had died several years earlier, but the two girls had never met.
“Rough trip?” Charlie asked the girls as he opened the plane door.
“I'll say,” Bess volunteered. “I hope we're taking the train back.”
“No extra charge for the roller coaster ride,” B.D. joked as he and Charlie exchanged slaps on the back.
Each of the girls got a firm handshake from Charlie and a cheerful smile from Rachel as introductions were made.
“Am I glad to see you,” Rachel said. “Most of our guests are families with small children. It's not very often we have other teenagers at the retreat.”
“And we're looking forward to having you showus around,” Nancy said. “We want to see everything.”
“Yes, after we rest,” Bess said. “After that plane trip I'm too shaken up for sight-seeing.”
“Are you too shaken up for lunch?” Charlie asked as he and B.D. helped carry the girls' bags to the van. “The retreat is about twenty minutes from here. I thought we'd grab a bite to eat in town before we drive out.”
“Take them to Miner's Creek Saloon,” B.D. suggested. “They've got the best burgers in the county.”
“Food, I can handle,” Bess said. “All that excitement's made me hungry.”
Nancy and George laughed. Bess was nearly always ready to eat.
“I'm starved, too,” Nancy said. “And we'll have a chance to hear more about the sale of the Highland Retreat over lunch.”
It had been three weeks since Charlie had called Nancy's father, a prominent River Heights attorney, for legal advice about the sale of Charlie's land. During that phone call, Charlie had also invited Nancy and her friends to visit before the resort was sold.
As the girls climbed into the van, Charlie asked B.D., “We still on for cribbage Thursday night?”
“I'm counting on it,” B.D. said, smiling at Charlie. “And it's your turn to provide the food.”
“Right. See you at nine,” Charlie called as he climbed behind the wheel of the van.
“That B.D. is quite a pilot,” George said to Charlie as he drove away.
“He's the best, all right,” Charlie said. “B.D. flies a lot of our guests in to the retreat. I probably wouldn't be in business without him and his airport.”
“B.D. is a good friend, too,” Rachel added. “He spends a lot of time up at the Highlands, hiking and stuff, not to mention all those cribbage games with Granddad.”
Nancy tried to picture the rugged B.D. turning cards and moving pegs along a cribbage board. It was easier to imagine him outdoors. “He seems more like a mountain man than a cribbage player,” Nancy said.
“Well, he's that, too,” Rachel said. “B.D.'s a fisherman and also the unofficial Eagle County historian.”
“I'm not surprised to hear that,” George said. “He was telling us stories during our flight about the fur trappers who were the first white settlers here.”
“Before the gold prospectors,” Bess added.
“B.D. tells all our guests that story. It gets them in the mood for their vacation at the retreat,” Rachel said with a laugh. “A lot of the guests pan for gold in Miner's Creek. Some of them like that more than the hiking and animal watching.”
As they drove down the main street of Eagle Point, Nancy felt as though she had been transported back one hundred years. The town lookedlike an old western village, even though it catered to tourists and was really quite modern. The sidewalks were made of wood, and the buildings looked as if they had appeared straight out of an old cowboy movie.
Charlie parked on the street in front of Miner's Creek Saloon and showed the girls inside. The dining room had dark wooden paneling, brass fixtures, and checked curtains on the front windows. They ordered lunch, and their small table was soon covered with oversize cheeseburgers and big plates of home-style french fries.
“I think Bess is in heaven,” George joked.
“I am,” Bess answered. “And I think I'm going to love Eagle Point. It's just getting here that I could do without.”
The others laughed and quickly dug into their food. Soon Charlie was mopping up the last dab of ketchup from his plate with a fat french fry.
“You asked about the Highlands sale earlier,” Charlie said, turning to Nancy. He frowned and looked down at the table. “I guess your father told you I'm selling the place to the government. The money will help me pay for Rachel's college education.”
Nancy suspected from his tone that Charlie wasn't completely happy about selling his land. She couldn't blame him for that. It was the only home he had ever known. She glanced at Rachel and saw that she, too, looked unhappy.
“I want to be a marine biologist,” Rachel told thegirls with the same hint of sadness in her voice that Nancy had detected in Charlie's. “I wish Granddad didn't have to sell his land, but there's just no other way.”
“My Rachel will be able to do a lot of good for the environment,” Charlie said. He reached across the table to touch his granddaughter's hand gently. “And we should have the money from the sale next year.Â .Â .Â . That is, if everything goes right.”
“Sometimes I wonder if it's going to,” Rachel said with a sigh. “So many things have happened on the retreat this summer.”
“Like what?” Nancy asked quickly. She was well known around River Heights for solving cases that had baffled the police. Any hint of a mystery always got her attention.
“Oh, nothing serious,” Charlie said. “Little things, like papers disappearing.”
“Papers having to do with the sale?” Nancy asked.
“Yes,” Rachel said, leaning forward. “You see, before the government can buy the land, the state legislature has to agree to pay for it. We're counting on Senator John P. Callihan, who used to live here in Eagle Point, to convince them to do that. He said he'd help, but the forms he sends Granddad keep disappearing.”
“Lost in the mail,” Charlie broke in lightly. “No mystery there. Just Rachel's overactive imagination, I'm afraid.”
“Maybe, but what about the fires?” Rachel said,looking squarely at her grandfather. “Even you can't explain those away so easily.”
Charlie's smile was replaced by a frown. Nancy thought she saw a look of sadness in his eyesâor was it fear?
“Do you mean there have been fires at the Highlands?” Nancy asked.
“Just small ones,” Charlie said, still frowning. “And I don't think they're much of a mystery either, really.”
“Granddad thinks the fires have been accidentally set by guests,” Rachel said. “Sometimes people are pretty careless with cigarettes and matches.”
“Did you find cigarettes or matches at the fires?” Nancy asked.
Charlie shook his head. “No, Nothing,” he said. “That is a little strange, I guess, but I wouldn't call it a mystery. Nothing like what you're used to, Nancy.”
Nancy thought about their conversation as she and her friends followed Charlie and Rachel out of the restaurant. There was probably a logical explanation for the fires, she decided finally. As they pushed through the doors to the rustic main street, Nancy breathed in the pine-scented air and thought about how much she was going to enjoy her relaxing vacation.
After climbing into the van, Nancy, Bess, and George didn't have to wait long to get a firsthand view of the ancient Cascade forests. The paved road quickly gave way to dirt. On both sides of theroad hundred-year-old evergreen trees stretched to the sky.
“This is our property on the right,” Charlie said. “The U.S. Forest Service owns the land on the other side of the road.”
“It's beautiful,” Nancy said. “A fire here would be a real tragedy.”
“It certainly would,” Charlie agreed. “Fire could destroy the forest and our business at the same time. Fortunately, we've been able to avoid any major disasters so far.”
Rachel pointed out the van window. “It looks as if we're in for a big storm.”
Nancy followed Rachel's gaze. The trees along the road had been replaced by a large, grassy meadow. Beyond the meadow the mountains reached skyward, their snowcapped peaks hidden by heavy black clouds. The storm clouds that they had seen to the north from the airplane now completely covered the sky. Nancy heard a rumble of thunder in the distance.
“It sure does look like rain,” George said.
“I hope so,” Rachel said. “Sometimes the lightning comes without rain. That's when we worry most about fires.”
“Can't you tell by looking if there's rain in the storm?” Bess asked.
“No, but sometimes I can smell the rain in the air. Then I know the forest is safe.” As she spoke, Rachel rolled down her window. But instead of rain, Nancy caught the faint smell of burning grass.
So did Rachel. “I smell smoke, Granddad,” she said.
“So do I,” Charlie said grimly. He pulled the van to the side of the dirt road, and he and the girls climbed out. “We'd better find the source fast. The whole forest could go up.”
He and the girls peered out into the meadow, looking for any sign of fire. The air was very still, and it was hard to tell which direction the smoke was coming from. Nancy wished she could see over the grass. She looked around for something to stand on. Just off the right side of the road, she spotted a round granite rock at least four feet tall. Nancy reached it with three long steps and scrambled on top. From her higher position she could see a small patch of burning grass. The flames were edging their way outward, as though the fire had not yet chosen a direction.
“There,” Nancy said. “Three, maybe four hundred yards away.”
The others looked in the direction Nancy pointed.
“I still don't see it,” George said, squinting.
Just then a strong gust of wind whipped across the meadow. Orange flames shot skyward and spread quickly through the dry grass. Nancy knew there was no longer any question about which way the fire would go. It was moving quicklyâstraight toward the trees!2Racing the Wind
Nancy jumped from the rock and ran back toward her friends. Fortunately, Charlie and Rachel knew exactly what to do. Living in the forest had taught them to prepare for just this sort of emergency. Like many of their neighbors, they carried short-handled shovels and a bucket in their vehicle. It took Charlie only a moment to break out the fire-fighting equipment.
“Rachel, go get Pete!” Charlie yelled as he handed shovels to Nancy and George and took the last one for himself. “Take Bess with you and call the Forest Service. If we don't get this stopped before it reaches the trees, we've got big trouble.”
Again, thunder rumbled in the distance. Nancy looked up at the clouds, remembering that they couldn't count on the storm for rain.
Dust billowed up from the van as Rachel and Bessdrove away. Charlie raced into the tall grass of the meadow, with George and Nancy close behind.
“Be careful of the creek!” Charlie shouted as Nancy came up beside him. “It's just ahead of you.”
His cry was just in time to save Nancy from slipping into the deep water. The tall grass had hidden the creek bank from view.
Charlie ran downstream to shallower water and waded quickly across. Nancy and George followed him, barely caring that their shoes were soaked in the process. On the far bank Nancy could hear the crackle of the fire as the wind whipped it through the grass. She let Charlie stay in the lead as they raced alongside the fire, down the meadow. The wind was at their backs, pushing the flames through dried grass and wildflowers. Nancy realized they would have to outrun the blaze to stop it. Once out in front they could use their shovels to build a fire line of dirt that the flames could not crossâif they were lucky.
Nancy was surprised at how quickly the fire was moving. She ran her fastest through the uneven ground of the meadow. Charlie was still in front of her, his surefootedness making up for his age as they ran.
“Come on, we don't have much time,” Charlie urged as he rounded the front edge of the fire. “Dig up the grass,” he instructed the girls.
Nancy and George went to work, pushing their shovels into the dry earth and turning over the meadow grass.
Behind them the forest trees swayed in the wind. The huge evergreens that had stood undisturbed for more than a hundred years now depended entirely on Charlie, Nancy, and George for their safety.
“How'd this happen?” A new and demanding voice came from the direction of the woods. Nancy turned quickly to see a stocky, older woman behind her pitch in with the shoveling. The woman's short hair was a tousled mixture of brown and gray, and she wore a white T-shirt under blue striped overalls. Nancy had been so intent on throwing dirt that she hadn't seen the newcomer approach, carrying her own shovel.
“Maddie Emerson,” Charlie called without missing a shovel beat. “Glad you showed up. We can use all the help we can get.”
“I was on my way home. How'd this start?” the woman asked again.
“Don't know. Lightning, I guess,” Charlie told her. Then with a few quick directions he split the group into pairs. He and George worked side by side, making a furrow two shovels wide through the meadow. Nancy and Maddie moved side by side in the opposite direction. By the time they had dug a line fifty feet long, Nancy was near exhaustion. The fire was drawing closer. The smoke was so thick, Nancy couldn't see Charlie and George at the other end of the fire line. Nancy's back was aching from the hard work, but she knew she couldn't stop digging.
Suddenly Maddie grabbed her roughly by the arm and jerked her aside. Nancy took two flying steps and fell sprawling into the meadow, just as the fire rushed through the grass behind her and stopped at the line of dirt they had just dug.
“Got no sense, young lady?” Maddie said gruffly. “You must be one of those city folks. Don't know when to get out from in front of a fire.”
“I was trying to finish the line,” Nancy said, scrambling to her feet. She was close enough to see the lines in the older woman's leathery skin.
“Well, it's as done as it's going to get,” Maddie told her. She spoke quietly as she turned to watch the blaze, and the harshness had left her voice. “Now it will either hold or it won't.”
Nancy watched as the flames gathered themselves behind the line. The fire appeared to be growing smaller as it ran out of grass to burn. Suddenly, with a mighty roar, the wind picked up again, whisking tongues of flame across the hard-dug trail of dirt. Once again the fire raced toward the forest, burning to the edge of the line of trees. Nancy and the others stood helpless as the first giant pine exploded into flames.
A flash of lightning and a crash of thunder seemed to announce their defeat. Nancy raised her head toward the sky. She could see why this kind of storm put the forest in so much danger. The huge thundercloud seemed to hang just overhead, ready to throw its lightning bolts toward the ground.Another flash drew Nancy's eyes toward the mountains. There, rushing across the meadow, was a curtain of rain, blowing in with the wind! “Look!” Nancy cried, pointing toward the rain. Maddie saw it and breathed a heavy sigh of relief.
In another moment the downpour reached them. Nancy and Maddie were instantly drenched, and the fire that had seemed unstoppable minutes earlier was reduced to a few smoldering ashes. The danger was past.
Maddie and Nancy ran for the cover of the forest to wait for the storm to pass. Nancy could see Charlie and George coming toward them through the smoke. Their wet clothes clung to their bodies, and streams of water had turned the soot and dirt to mud on their faces. Despite their frazzled looks, both Charlie and George were smiling.
“That was close,” George said. “I thought we'd lost the whole forest.”
“I want to thank you girls for your help, and you, too, Maddie,” Charlie said.
“You can thank people all you want, but sooner or later that's not going to be good enough,” Maddie said. Her scowl had returned. “Looks to me like your luck is running out, Charlie Griffin.”
“What do you mean by that?” Nancy asked, frowning.
“I mean, he'd better figure out a way to stop all of these fires, or Highland Retreat is going to be nothing but ashes.”
“Now, Maddie, this could have been caused bylightning,” Charlie said. “Besides, it's under control.”
“This time it is. But next time you may not be so lucky,” Maddie said. Then she turned and started heading back toward her jeep.
“That almost sounded like some kind of threat,” George said as Maddie waded across the creek and headed for the road.
“Oh, she's just mad about the sale,” Charlie said. “Maddie runs a wild bird hospital. She cares for birds that have been shot or hit by cars. Maddie thinks a state park will bring more people and more problems for the birds.”
The thundershower passed over in a matter of minutes, and Nancy, George and Charlie emerged from the forest. As Maddie drove away in her gray jeep, the retreat's van suddenly came into view. It parked by the big rock, and Rachel and Bess jumped out. Behind them was a dark-haired, stocky man. The three of them trudged through the wet grass as Nancy and George helped Charlie put out the embers from the fire.
“I guess you girls got an unusual welcome to Highland Retreat,” the man said when they came up. He was of medium height, with broad shoulders and a large stomach that partially covered the big buckle on his western belt. His wide-brimmed brown cowboy hat kept the last drops of rain off his tanned face.
“This is Pete Sims, our main hand at the retreat,” Rachel said.
“Pleased to meet you,” Nancy said. “And our first dayhasbeen a little more exciting than we'd expected.”
“And we haven't even gotten to our cabin yet,” George added.
“You all run along now. I'll finish up,” Pete said, waving toward the van.
Nancy thought fast. She wasn't ready to leave the fire scene quite yet. The first shadow of a doubt about the cause of this fire was forming in the back of her mind. Charlie had said it was probably the result of lightning, but Nancy remembered seeing lightning only near the mountains before the fire started. That, plus the fact that this wasn't the first suspicious fire on the retreat, made Nancy want to investigate.
“I'll catch up,” she said to the others. “I think I lost my watch while I was digging.” As she spoke, she quickly slipped her watch off her wrist and into her pocket.
“We'll help you look for it,” Bess offered.
Nancy waved her friend away. “That's okay,” she said. “I think I know exactly where it is.”
As the others headed toward the van, Nancy began to follow the fire line, looking at the ground carefully as if searching for the watch. When she got to the end of the fire line, she circled around toward the spot where the fire had started. Pete was still back near the fire line, throwing dirt on the last embers. She hoped he wouldn't look up. Across themeadow Charlie and the girls were almost to the van.
Nancy was looking for anything that seemed out of placeâanything that would tell her someone had been near the start of the fire. She found nothing on the ground, but then, just as she was about to give up, she spotted a flash of white caught in the thorns of a low bush. Nancy reached in carefully and pulled out a partly burned piece of paper.
Suddenly she heard a noise behind her. Nancy turned to see Pete Sims scowling at her from beneath his wide hat brim.
“What do you have there?” he demanded.3Half a Clue
Nancy quickly tucked the paper into her pocket and pulled out her watch. “I found my watch,” she said, showing it to Pete.
“Then you'd better get out of here,” the dark-haired man ordered. “Don't you know this is a dangerous place to be? This fire could start up again any minute.”
“Are you coming, too?” Nancy asked. She thought Pete seemed awfully anxious to be alone in the meadow.
“Soon enough,” Pete told her shortly. “Now, go on before the van takes off without you.” He gestured in the direction of the road, where Charlie and the girls had just reached the van.
“Sorry. Thanks for your help.” Nancy tried to sound cheerful as she started off to join the others.
A few rays of sun streaked through the heavy clouds overhead. Bess stood by the van with herhead hung to one side, squeezing the excess water out of her long blond hair. Her blue shorts and denim blouse were soaked to her skin. George and Rachel were already inside the van. They looked as if they had just been pushed into a swimming pool with their clothes on. Everyone was smudged with dirt and ash. They could all use warm showers, Nancy thought.
“How will Pete get back?” she asked as Charlie held open the van door for her.
“Don't worry,” Rachel volunteered. “There's a trail that leads from the meadow back to the lodge. In fact, Pete was just coming back from there when we found him and told him about the fire.”
“He'd been in the meadow?” Nancy asked in surprise.
Rachel nodded. “He'd been putting out a salt block to attract deer for the guests to watch.” She paused, frowning. “He seemed very surprised about the fire. He hadn't noticed it when he was there, so it must have just started,” she said.
It seemed to Nancy that a lot of people had “happened” to be around the fire scene. Pete had been in the meadow just before it started. Maddie Emerson had shown up just after. It was even an interesting coincidence, she thought, that the fire had started as they were driving by. Could someone have planned for them to see it? She remembered Maddie's words: “He'd better figure out a way to stop all of these fires, or Highland Retreat is going to be ashes.”
Could Maddie Emerson have been threatening Charlie instead of warning him?
Nancy reached into the pocket of her shorts and carefully pulled out the soggy paper that she had found in the bush.
“What's that?” George asked.
“I'm not sure,” Nancy said. She looked at the note briefly, but she could make out nothing of what was left of the words.
“Did you drop this?” she asked Charlie, handing the note over the seat to him.
The van slowed as Charlie looked at the paper and handed it back. “Never seen it,” he said. “Where did it come from?”
“It was near the fire,” Nancy answered. She spread the paper out on her lap and once again tried to decipher the words.
ly 13, 19
n Home Rd.
The rest of the message had been smudged or burned away.
“I can't tell anything from that,” Bess said from her seat beside Nancy.
“The first line must be the date,” Nancy said.“That's the day before yesterday. Whoever received this letter must have gotten it within the last two daysâand he or she could have dropped it in the meadow right before the fire.”
“Do you think someone started the fire?” George asked.
“Maybe,” Nancy said. “But if so, who? And why would anyone want to do something like that?”
“Now, wait a minute,” Charlie broke in, glancing in the rearview mirror. “I think you girls are getting carried away with all this mystery stuff,” he said. “The fire was started by lightning. There's no mystery in that.”
“Your grandfather's probably right,” Nancy said to Rachel, tucking the paper back in her pocket. “You said yourself the storm could be dangerous.”
Rachel looked unconvinced, but she didn't say anything more as the van rounded the turn into the retreat. On the left stood a large barn with horse corrals behind it. Across the road from the barn Rachel pointed out Pete's small house and a row of five cabins with a creek flowing behind them. At the end of the row of cabins a large wooden lodge perched on a hill at a bend in the creek.
Charlie stopped in front of the cabin closest to the lodge just as a truck with a United States Forest Service emblem on the side drove up the driveway behind them. It was a small fire-fighting truck, with a water tank and hoses on the sides.
“You girls have an hour to clean up beforedinner,” Charlie said, unlocking the cabin door. “Rachel and I'll go talk to the men in greenâand tell them they're late.”
Nancy, Bess, and George threw their suitcases on the two sets of bunk beds and began to peel off their rain-soaked shoes and socks. The cabin was rustic but comfortable. One room served as both living room and bedroom. Off that room was a small kitchen and a counter with four chairs. There was also a small bathroom with a shower, which the girls took turns using to scrub off the mud and ashes.
“I feel a hundred percent better,” Bess said as she straightened the collar of her mint-green shirt. “Next time let's leave the fire fighting to the Forest Service.”
“Let's hope there isn't a next time,” Nancy said. “That fire could have been disastrous.”
“You don't think it was caused by lightning, do you?” George asked, lacing up a pair of clean white tennis shoes.
“I'm not sure,” Nancy said. She explained why she'd thought that the fire had started before the lightning arrived. “It could have been arson,” she said. “But why would someone want to burn down a beautiful forest?”
“To scare tourists away?” George suggested.
“We know Maddie would like to do that,” Nancy said. “But she wouldn't want to destroy the trees.”
“And Maddie helped put the fire out,” Georgeadded. “Why would she do that if she had started it in the first place?”
“So we wouldn't suspect her?” Bess suggested. She was standing in front of a small mirror, brushing her hair as she spoke. “Maybe Maddie was afraid someone had seen her too close to the fire, and she wanted to protect herself.”
“I think Maddie's definitely a suspect,” Nancy said. “But she's not the only one.”
“That's right. Pete was there, too,” Bess said. “And he was awfully anxious to get us out of there.”
“We need more information,” Nancy said as the three of them closed their suitcases and started toward the lodge for dinner. “Let's keep our eyes and ears open tonight and see if we can learn more.”
The rainstorm had settled the dust on the retreat's dirt driveway, and a fresh mountain scent mingled pleasantly with the faint smell of food as the girls neared the lodge. Nancy rapped on the big wooden screen door, and the girls were quickly greeted by a motherly looking woman in a ruffled apron.
“Come right in. Guests don't need to knock,” she said, smiling broadly. “You must be Nancy, George, and Bess. I'm Elsa Parker, the cook. Dinner's almost ready.”
“I can't wait,” Bess said. “Can we help?”
“Thank you, but it's all under control,” Elsa said. “In fact, I believe Rachel is just finishing the salad. I'll send her out.”
While they waited for Rachel, the girls looked around the main room of the lodge. They had entered beneath a balcony that overlooked the main floor. A huge stone fireplace covered most of the far wall of the room, with the rock work climbing two stories high. In front of the fireplace a large wooden table was set for dinner. Several of the retreat's other guests were already gathered nearby.
“Let's go over and meet people,” George suggested, but Nancy had already spotted a large display of old pictures and mining equipment arranged on the wall beneath the balcony.
“I'd like to check this out first,” she said, nodding toward the shelves and glass cases of old artifacts.
Bess was quickly attracted by a small piece of snowy-white quartz with gold-colored veins running through it. It was displayed on a shelf inside a locked case beneath a small miner's pick.
“Pretty, isn't it?” Rachel said, surprising the girls as she entered the room. “It's valuable, too.”
“It's really gold, then?” Bess asked.
“Yes? running through the quartz,” Rachel said. “Wait here a minute.” She disappeared into the kitchen and came back with a small gold key. After unlocking the case, she picked up the piece of quartz and handed it to Bess. “For such a small rock it's pretty heavy, isn't it?”
“I'll say,” George said, taking the quartz from Bess. She passed it on to Nancy.
“Gold is one of the heaviest metals,” Rachel explained. “That's why it settled to the bottom of the prospectors' pans.” Rachel took the gold ore from Nancy and set it on a nearby shelf before pointing to a deep pan with sloping sides that sat on a special stand. “That's what the prospectors used to pan for gold.”
“It looks a little like a wok,” George commented.
“It's shaped for washing sand,” Rachel said, picking up the pan. “People use the same âpanning' technique today. They swirl a pan full of sand around with water until all but the heaviest material washes away. What's left is usually black sand. With luck there will be gold flakes or nuggets in with it.”
The girls could see black sand in the bottom of the display pan, but there was no gold in it.
“Is the sand valuable?” George asked.
“No, it's just for show,” Rachel told her, putting the pan back in place.
“But the white quartz is worth something, I bet,” Bess said.
“Yes, but it's important to Granddad and me because of its history,” Rachel explained.
“Where did it come from?” Nancy asked.
“Charlie got it from his dad, Cyrus,” Rachel explained. “It was found near Miner's Creek by a prospector named Jeremiah Benner. He was using that pickax right there above the quartz. But Charlie tells the story better than I do.”
“Dinner's ready!” Elsa's voice echoed through the big lodge as she placed a large bowl of potatoes on the table.
“And I'm ready for dinner,” Bess said as she and George followed Rachel to the table.
Nancy was about to follow when she heard the sound of an argument on the porch outside.
“I told you everything is fine,” a voice said.
Nancy could tell that the speaker was Charlie, but he sounded very nervous. She didn't recognize the second voice.
“You don't seem to understand how serious this matter is,” the second man said sternly. “The senator isn't going to be pleased. Any more problems and the park deal is off!”4Jeremiah's Gold
Nancy edged her way toward the front door of the lodge, pretending to be interested in a picture on the wall. She was hoping to get a glimpse, through the screen door, of the stranger on the porch. Unfortunately, Charlie spotted her. There was an awkward moment of silence as Charlie realized his conversation had been overheard.
“Excuse me, but dinner is ready,” Nancy said quickly.
“Thank you, Nancy,” Charlie said, looking somewhat relieved. He pushed the screen door open and introduced Nancy to a handsome young man in a well-tailored suit. “Nancy Drew, this is Tyler Nelson,” Charlie said.
The young man forced a tense smile and extended his hand to Nancy.
“Nancy helped us fight the fire today,” Charlie told Tyler as the man and Nancy shook hands.
“Charlie thinks the fire was started by lightning,” Tyler said. He studied Nancy, as though waiting to see if she would contradict Charlie's story.
“We were lucky the rain put it out,” Nancy answered, trying to avoid saying anything definite.
“We can all be glad of that,” Tyler said, looking at Nancy with piercing blue eyes. “Senator Callihan is beginning to think this place is too dangerous for a park.”
“Tyler, here, is an aide for the senator,” Charlie explained.
“Yes, I just flew in tonight to check some records and take a few pictures,” Tyler said.
“And get some dinner, I hope,” Charlie said. He seemed anxious to end the awkward meeting. “Let's eat.” He led the way in to the table before either Nancy or Tyler could say anything else.
At the table Charlie introduced the girls to the other guests.
“Shirley and Frank Kauffman and their son, Aaron, have the first cabin,” Charlie said, gesturing to a family at the end of the table. The man and woman both wore bright flannel shirts and blue jeans. The man was tall and blond. His wife had long black hair fastened with a barrette. “They've come here every year since Aaron was born,” Charlie went on. “That's five years, isn't it?”
Both the Kauffmans nodded, looking pleased that Charlie remembered their son's age. Shirley gently pushed a stray strand of black hair from her son'seyes. Aaron was swinging his feet vigorously under the table. A boy with lots of energy, Nancy guessed.
“And this is Todd and Beth Smythe, who are here for their honeymoon. They're in the middle cabin,” Charlie said.
The newlyweds held hands and smiled at each other as they were introduced. Both had dressed up for dinnerâTodd in a checked cotton shirt with a narrow western tie, and Beth in a ruffled blouse and long skirt.
Pete and Elsa sat at the table with the guests, as did Tyler Nelson. Pete had changed into a plaid shirt that stretched a little too tightly across his chest, straining the fabric. He was the first to dig into the potatoes, Nancy noticed.
The platters of food were soon empty, much to Elsa's delight. Bess was working on her second helping of steak.
“I'm so glad you liked the venison,” Elsa said, beaming. “Some people don't, you know.”
Bess stopped chewing and pushed aside the last bites on her plate.
“This is deer meat?” she asked weakly.
“Yes,” Charlie said. “And Elsa fixes it better than anyone I know.”
“Don't listen to him,” Elsa said as she began to clear the dishes. “He's just trying to butter me up so he'll get a bigger piece of dessert.”
“I'll help Elsa while you tell everyone the story of Jeremiah Benner,” Rachel said to Charlie as shejumped to her feet. “It'll get them in the mood for a ride to Prospector's Canyon.”
“We'd love to hear it,” Nancy said eagerly.
Charlie pushed his chair back from the table. “This is the legend of Miner's Creek,” he began. “And it all begins with a man named Jeremiah Benner.
“Jeremiah was a prospector in these parts. No one seems to know where he came from, or where he finally went, but while he was here, about seventy years ago, he was supposed to have found one of the county's richest gold mines.”
Nancy looked around the table. She could see that Charlie had caught all of his guests' attention with the mention of gold, including Tyler Nelson.
“He panned a lot of gold out of Miner's Creek,” Charlie went on. “Jeremiah was convinced that the mother lodeâthe source of all the goldâwas someplace on this property. He was so convinced, in fact, that he agreed to make my father, Cyrus, his partner. Jeremiah said he'd give him half of whatever he found. In exchange, my father let him continue to prospect on this land.
“Jeremiah looked for all of one summer and most of the next. Then one evening, just before dark, he came running down the trail from Prospector's Canyon, his old burro hurrying along behind, pots and pans banging as they ran. He was shouting, âI'm rich! I'm rich! I struck it rich!'â”
Charlie paused for a moment. Elsa and Rachelwere busy setting plates of German chocolate cake in front of each guest.
“What Jeremiah had found were two pieces of quartz with gold in them,” Charlie continued. “He kept one for himself and gave the other to Cyrus. He said he'd found a pocket of that quartz ore that was so heavy with gold he'd only be able to carry a little of it out at a time. But he refused to tell Cyrus where it was. Cyrus never got anything more after that one piece of quartz, which most of you have seen on that shelf over by the door.”
“But what happened to Jeremiah?” George asked.
Charlie shook his head. “No one knows. He sneaked around in and out of the mountains for about a month after that. Then he just disappeared. According to my father, his burro wandered into the barn one day with its halter still on, looking for food. But no one ever saw Jeremiah again.”
“Now,that'sa mystery,” George whispered to Nancy.
“My dad, Cyrus, died of smallpox shortly after that, leaving Ma and me alone. I don't remember anything about Jeremiah, except from stories.” Charlie leaned back in his chair.
There was silence around the table for a moment.
“I never even knew there was gold in Washington State,” Bess said at last.
“Yes, we have the same mountain formation as California and Alaska,” Rachel explained. She hadfinished serving cake and was once again sitting at the table next to Nancy. “Of course, there haven't been as many stories about Washington, but we've had our share of prospectors. Some of them got rich, just like they did in California.”
“Did you look for the gold yourself?” Nancy asked Charlie as she finished her cake.
The old man shrugged. “I did, some, but I never found anything. Neither did any of the other people who came looking,” Charlie said. “My guess is that Jeremiah found these two pieces of quartz and that was all. I don't think there ever was a mine. Jeremiah, once he figured that out, probably headed for Alaska, hoping to strike gold there.”
“Now I can't wait to see Prospector's Canyon,” Mrs. Kauffman said.
“Maybe we can find gold,” Aaron added eagerly. He looked down the table at Charlie, his eyes wide with excitement.
“We'll ride horses to the canyon day after tomorrow,” Rachel promised.
Everyone agreed that they'd like to see the place where Jeremiah supposedly struck it rich.
“It sounds like a tall tale to me,” Tyler said. He held his water glass casually in one hand as he spoke. Still wearing a suit, he looked out of place in the rustic surroundings, Nancy thought.
“Oh, but the ride will be fun,” Bess said.
“Well, I say you're off on a wild-goose chase,” Tyler continued. “And Charlie told me the bestscenery is north of the meadow. Why don't you take your ride there?”
“Maybe we'll go both places,” Rachel said.
Tyler folded his napkin and, after thanking his hosts, excused himself from the table. “I've got some reading to do. Good night, everyone,” he said abruptly, then walked out the front door of the lodge.
“What'shisproblem?” Bess said under her breath.
“If I didn't know better, I'd think he wanted us all to stay away from Prospector's Canyon,” George whispered to Nancy.
“Which makes me all the more determined to go,” Nancy said. “This has been a very interesting day.”
Nancy, Bess, and George helped Elsa and Rachel carry dishes into the kitchen. The other guests slowly returned to their own cabins.
When the table was cleared, Elsa brought mugs and a pot of tea. Charlie lit a small fire in the fireplace, and the girls pulled chairs in a half circle around it.
“Is the sale really in danger of falling through?” Nancy asked Charlie.
Charlie sighed. “According to Tyler it is. He says Senator Callihan doesn't like the reports of problems here. Money is tight right now, and he's having trouble getting the votes to buy the place.”
“Someone could be trying to stop the sale,”Nancy said gently. “I'm still not convinced that fire today was caused by lightning.”
“It could have been lightning, but I have to admit, the timing seemed wrong,” Charlie said slowly. He took a sip of tea. “But who would do such a thing?”
“Maddie, for one,” George volunteered.
“Or Pete,” Bess added. “Neither of them were very nice today at the fire.”
“Nonsense,” Charlie said without hesitation. “Maddie loves the land in these parts more than anyone I know, and Pete has lived here for twenty years. He wouldn't try to burn his own home.”
“If the Highlands becomes a state park, will Pete have to move?” Nancy asked carefully.
Charlie was silent for a moment. “Yes,” he answered quietly. “According to the agreement, I can live here for the rest of my life, but Pete would have to be out by the end of the year. But I could never believe that Pete would start that fire.”
“What would you do if the state didn't buy the land?” Nancy asked. “Couldn't you sell to someone else?”
Charlie nodded. “There is a second offer, but I'd feel better about selling the land if it was going to be a park. Then I could be sure it would be taken care of,” he said.
“Who made you the second offer?” Nancy asked.
“I'll show you the letter,” Charlie said, rising from his chair. He crossed the room to a large rolltop desk under the staircase that led to thebalcony. Then he pulled a letter from the top drawer and handed it to Nancy.
At the top of the letter were three eagles, above an address for the Nature Preservation League. The eagles looked to Nancy as if they had been printed by a computer. The letter read:
Dear Mr. Griffin:
It has come to our attention that the Highland Retreat may be for sale. We are very interested in buying and preserving land in your area. Though we could not offer as much as some, you could rest assured that your land would be in good hands. Please contact us at the above address.
“May I take the letter?” Nancy asked. “I'd like to check out this Nature Preservation League.”
“What are you checking for?” Bess asked.
“I'm not sure,” Nancy said. “But if this group is so anxious to buy the land, they might have a reason to try to stop the government deal. I think it's worth looking into.”
With Charlie's permission Nancy took the letter, and the girls started to leave for their cabin. Rachel and Charlie walked them to the door of the lodge.
Suddenly Rachel gasped as they passed the display of mining equipment.
“The gold quartz!” she cried. “It's gone!”5In Harm's Way
Everyone whirled around to look at the shelf where the quartz had been.
“I left it out,” Rachel blurted. “I remember, I took it from the locked case and left it here.” She pointed to the shelf where she had placed the rock while explaining to the girls how to pan for gold. There were only a few books on it.
“Maybe it got knocked down or put in the wrong place,” Bess suggested. She and Rachel began to look around on the floor and the other shelves, but they didn't find anything.
“Who could have taken it?” George asked, frowning.
“Anyone who was at dinner,” Nancy said. “All of the guests walked by here on their way out. Any one of them could have picked up the quartz.”
“But why?” Rachel shrugged her shoulders in confusion.
Nancy turned to Charlie. For the first time thatday he really did look like an old man. The lines in his face seemed deeper, and his eyes looked sad and tired.
“I'm beginning to think you and Rachel are right, Nancy,” he said slowly. “There are just too many things going wrongâthe fires, the quartz, the difficulty with the sale of our land. It's as though someone is trying to take everything that matters away from us.”
Nancy took a deep breath. “I'm afraid I have to agree with you,” she said. “I'm so sorry about your gold ore. Let's try and figure out who is behind these problemsâand why. I'd like to take a trip back to the meadow to check out the fire site more thoroughly.”
“I'll take you right after breakfast,” Rachel volunteered.
The girls said good night to Rachel and Charlie and walked to their cabin.
“I hope the beds are comfortable,” Bess said as they opened the door.
“After a day like this, I think I could sleep on anything,” George said.
Nancy agreed, but once she was in her top bunk, she found her head swimming with the events of the day. It was at least an hour before she finally got to sleep.
â¢Â â¢Â â¢
“Rise and shine!” Rachel announced cheerfully as she pounded on the girls' cabin door the next morning. “Breakfast in thirty minutes.”
Breakfast turned out to be homemade blueberry muffins, crisp bacon, scrambled eggs, juice, and hot cocoa served buffet-style in the lodge.
Nancy, George, and Bess had the spread all to themselves.
“Charlie's in his office doing paperwork, and the Kauffmans have already eaten,” Rachel told them. “Apparently Aaron woke his parents early this morning,” she added with a laugh. “The honey-mooners are still asleep. We usually let guests sleep as late as they want, but I'm anxious to get started solving this mystery.”
“Don't you meanmysteries?”George asked. “It seems to me there's more than one here.”
“That's right,” Bess agreed. “There's the mystery of the fires and of someone trying to stop the sale of your grandfather's land. And then there's the mystery of the stolen gold ore.”
“That's my fault,” Rachel said, looking at the floor. “I shouldn't have left the quartz out where it could be stolen.”
Nancy wanted to tell Rachel everything would be all right, but so far the mysteries were baffling even to her.
After breakfast the girls followed Rachel out of the lodge. They waved to the Kauffmans, who were walking toward their car. Little Aaron was several paces behind his parents, examining a rock near the road.
“I think it's gold!” Aaron cried out, holding up the rock.
Bess laughed as his parents pretended to be very excited about his find.
“It looks like Aaron's caught gold fever,” Rachel said with a laugh.
She led the girls along a path to the meadow, her long legs striding quickly. They crossed Miner's Creek, using a small footbridge suspended by ropes from four large pine trees. Bess was reluctant to cross the wobbly bridge but finally decided it was better than getting her feet wet by wading.
The trail wound through grass and wildflowers. The storm had blown over, leaving behind a brilliant blue sky. Beyond the meadow the snowcapped mountains finished a postcard-perfect setting.
They passed the salt lick that Pete had set out the day before. Rachel showed the girls deer tracks around the block, but there were no animals in sight.
“Over here,” Nancy said when they neared the fire site. “I can see the ashes.”
She led them off the trail to the place where the fire had started. She was standing at the point of a triangle of burned grass that had its longest edge at the line of trees where the meadow ended.
“The wind blew the fire in that direction,” Nancy said, pointing to the trees. “So it had to have started here.”
She led the way along the burned edge of grass, looking for clues as she went. Near the trees Nancy found tracks where the meadow grass had been crushed by the tires of a large vehicle.
“Is there a road close to here?” Nancy asked Rachel.
“There are old logging roads all through the woods,” Rachel replied. “But I don't know why anyone would be driving in the meadow.”
“Unless they were here to start a fire,” Nancy said.
Nancy followed the tire tracks to the edge of the trees, but then they disappeared in the deep bed of pine needles. A jeep or truck could have easily maneuvered between the trees and back to the dirt road leading to town.
“The only thing all these tracks really tell us is that someone has been here within the last few days,” Nancy said. “We're at a dead end, I'm afraid. Our best clue still seems to be the piece of paper I found in the bush. We know for sure that it was dropped recentlyâmaybe by the person who drove whatever vehicle made these tracks.”
The girls walked back along the trail toward the footbridge. When they reached the creek, Rachel made a sudden startled jump straight into the air.
“A water snake,” Rachel told the others with a sheepish laugh. “They're harmless, but they always make me jump.”
“A snake!” Bess sounded shocked. “Are there more?”
“Sure,” Rachel answered.
“Are any of them dangerous?” Bess formed her words slowly.
“There are some rattlesnakes,” Rachel said with a shrug. “But they mostly stay hidden during the heat of the day.”
Bess nodded, glancing nervously at the ground.
“There are so many different animals in the Highlands, and I love them all,” Rachel went on. “That's why I want to be a marine biologist someday, so I can help wildlife and the environment.”
“Why amarinebiologist?” Nancy asked.
“Mostly because of the salmon,” Rachel replied. “Every fall I watch them swim up Miner's Creek to spawn. And every spring the baby salmon swim hundreds of miles back to the ocean. I've always wanted to follow them to see where they live the rest of their lives. Come on, I'll show you my special place.”
Instead of crossing the footbridge, Rachel led the girls along the creek to a salmon spawning bed she had restored in a straight stretch of clear, shallow water.
“This is it,” Rachel said proudly. “I hauled in that round gravel on the bottom of the creek myself. The salmon bury their eggs in it.”
To Nancy, the bed had seemed unimpressive at firstâjust a wide stretch of rapidly flowing waterâbut Rachel's explanation made it much more interesting.
“The real work was over here,” Rachel continued.Nancy, Bess, and George followed her to a dam of rocks and concrete built at the entrance to a narrow ravine. Behind the dam was a pool of muddy water.
“This fills up every time it rains,” Rachel said. “Without the dam the floodwater from that ravine would run into the stream. Then mud would smother the eggs and ruin the spawning bed.”
“That must have been a lot of work,” Bess said, looking at the four-foot-high dam.
Rachel nodded. “It sure was. It took me most of the summer to build,” she explained. “Luckily, there are a lot of rocks around here, but I still had to carry all the concrete and roll the rocks into place. Thank goodness I had Maddie to help.”
“Maddie Emerson?” Nancy wasn't surprised that the two were friends. Rachel had been quick to defend Maddie after the fire the day before.
“That's right,” Rachel said. “Maddie knows a lot about most of the animals that live around here, not just birds.”
As Rachel took the girls on a shortcut back to the lodge, Nancy hoped silently that Maddie wasn't involved in the problems at the retreat. It would be hard for Rachel to learn that she had been betrayed by someone who shared her love of nature.
“We can cross on this log,” Rachel said, leading them to a fallen tree that made a natural bridge across the stream. What was left of the tree's large branches provided good handholds, and the girls made the crossing easily.
The four of them climbed the bank toward the lodge. As they headed through the trees, Nancy heard the sound of a jeep. Briefly she wondered whether Charlie had gone into town and was returning home.
It wasn't until they had stepped out of the trees that Nancy saw an old army jeep just a few yards away. It was headed straight toward themâand there was no one at the wheel!6Friends and Neighbors
Quickly Nancy grabbed Rachel and pulled her out of the way of the runaway jeep. George and Bess jumped to safety just in time and rolled into the pine needles under the trees.
“Phew! That was close,” George said as she and Bess got up and brushed themselves off.
Then Rachel gasped. “The gas truck!” she cried, pointing in the direction of the lodge.
Nancy saw a small tank truck parked next to the retreat's gas pump beside the lodge. The truck was apparently making a delivery.
“The jeep's heading straight for it!” George yelled.
Without hesitation Nancy ran after the jeep. If it collided with the gasoline tanker, there could be a gas spill into Miner's Creekâor, even worse, an explosion.
“Stay back!” Nancy called over her shoulder. Shewasn't at all sure she could stop the jeep in time, and an explosion would almost certainly destroy the lodge.
Bounding over the uneven ground, she finally reached the door handle and wrenched it open. The truck was directly ahead. The deliveryman had just come around from behind his tanker and realized the danger. He waved his arms frantically at Nancy.
With her left hand on the open door, Nancy took a mighty leap and grabbed for the steering wheel, landing in the driver's seat. She immediately saw that a board was holding down the gas pedal. The steering wheel was also tied in place, forcing the jeep to hold to its collision course. Nancy kicked the board away with her foot, then stomped on the brake, hard. The jeep stopped with a lurch, just inches from the tank truck. Nancy shakily turned off the ignition, and the engine went silent.
The deliveryman came running through the dust that the jeep had kicked up. “That was some rescue,” he said, obviously impressed.
Rachel, Bess, and George had also run to the jeep. Todd and Beth Smythe, who had seen all the action as they walked to the lodge, came up from the opposite direction. Nancy found herself surrounded by an admiring group.
“I bet you could be a movie stuntwoman,” Todd Smythe said.
“You certainly saved my tanker,” the delivery-man said. “And probably saved the lodge as well.”
“Thanks,” Nancy said, feeling her face grow red from all of the attention. “But you would have done the same thing if you'd had the chance. Do you deliver here often?”
“The first Tuesday of every month,” the man answered, wiping his forehead with a handkerchief. “But I've never had a close call like this.”
Nancy excused herself and started to follow the tracks left by the jeep. Clearly, someone had planned the near-disaster, and she was determined to find out who.
“Do you think that jeep was aimed at the gas truck or at us?” Bess asked, taking several running steps to keep up with Nancy's long strides.
Nancy frowned. “I'm not sure. But either way it took careful timing. Rachel, do you know whose jeep this is?”
“It belongs to the retreat,” Rachel answered.
“Let's hurry and see if we can catch whoever did this,” Nancy said.
George, Bess, and Rachel hurried after Nancy as she backtracked in the direction the jeep had come. Nancy realized that, by putting the jeep in low gear, whoever started it had given himself or herself time to get away from the scene. Even so, the person couldn't have gone far.
“Where is that jeep usually parked?” Nancy asked.
“Beside the barn,” Rachel answered.
“It looks as if that's where these tracks lead,”Nancy said. When she reached the jeep's usual parking spot, she turned and looked toward the lodge. It was a straight shot across an open area.
“Whoever was responsible could have done all his work right here, then started the engine and disappeared behind the barn,” Nancy said. “Let's take a look.”
As they neared the back corner of the barn, Nancy raised her finger to her lips, signaling the others to be quiet. There were voices coming from inside the barn.
Nancy leaned close to the door, but she couldn't make out what was being said.
“This way,” Rachel whispered. She motioned to Nancy to follow her to a ladder that led to a hayloft in the top of the barn.
“We'll be able to hear from up there,” Rachel said.
George and Bess offered to stay below as lookouts, and Nancy and Rachel climbed carefully up the old ladder.
The loft was one open room, half full of hay bales. Spaced along each side were openings in the floor, through which hay could be thrown down to each horse stall. Nancy and Rachel flattened themselves on their stomachs near one of the holes.
Below, Maddie and Pete were talking in angry voices. Nancy could hear clearly what was being said.
“It's not right that they should kick me out of myhome,” Pete grumbled. “I've worked here for twenty years. It's not going to be easy to find another place to live, or another job.”
“I don't blame you for being angry about the sale,” Maddie said. “And the last thingIwant is crowds of city folks stomping through the woods.”
“Well, if it keeps burning, we may not have to worry about that,” Pete said.
“That would beâ”
Suddenly Nancy heard a creak, like that of a door hinge. Maddie stopped in midsentence. She and Pete both looked toward the barn door.
Pete strode to the door and yanked it open. Bess and George came tumbling into the barn.
“I can explain,” Bess said quickly. “We were looking for lunch.”
“She means horses,” George corrected, but it was easy to see that Pete wasn't buying the story. He pushed his hat back, revealing the grim expression on his face.
“I think you two were snooping around,” Pete accused, folding his arms across his chest. “And I want to know why.”
The cousins looked at each other, as if both of them were waiting for the other to answer. Then the two of them looked at the floor, speechless.
Quickly Nancy climbed down the ladder from the loft and jumped to the floor behind Pete. Rachel was right behind her. Pete whirled around in surprise.
“I'll tell you why,” Nancy said. “We were tryingto find out who set the retreat's jeep on a collision course with a gasoline tanker.”
Both Pete and Maddie looked confused. “I don't know what you're talking about,” Pete shot back. “But I don't like being accused of things.”
“Neither do I,” Maddie said angrily. “And I don't like people eavesdropping on my conversations.”
“Nancy is just trying to help,” Rachel said. “And I'm sure she didn't mean to offend you. We just want some answers.”
“Has anyone else been here this morning?” Nancy asked.
“Not that I've seen,” Pete said with a shrug. “I've been here for the last hour or so, feeding and brushing horses. Maddie just came over to see if we'd ever figured out how the fire started. Now, what happened with the jeep?”
George and Rachel took turns telling about the runaway jeep and how Nancy had stopped it just in time.
Nancy watched Maddie and Pete's reactions to the story closely. Maddie, she thought, looked both shocked and concerned. Pete had put on a poker face that gave Nancy no clue as to what he was thinking.
“You'd better go check out that jeep,” Maddie said to Pete when the story was finished. “I need to check on my birds.” Then she turned back to Nancy and Rachel. Her voice was even and low. “I did see a rig parked by the road when I drove uphere,” she said. “Probably some tourist saw a deer in the meadow.”
Nancy thanked her, and the girls left the barn. They hurried toward the dirt road to see if any vehicle was still there.
“Rachel!” Maddie yelled from the barn. “You be careful! This is getting dangerous.”
The girls jogged down the driveway and turned onto the dirt road that led to town. Nancy guessed they walked for a quarter mile, but there was no sign of any vehicle. After a fruitless search for tracks they finally gave up and headed back toward the retreat lodge.
“Do you suppose Maddie said that just to get us out of there?” George said. “So that Pete could get rid of any evidence in the jeep?”
“It's a possibility,” Nancy said.
“Maddie wouldn't do that,” Rachel protested, her face growing red with anger.
“I hope not,” Nancy said. “Anyway, I think we need more evidence before we accuse anyâ”
Nancy's words were suddenly cut off by the sound of a huge explosion!7A Startling Truth
“Was that the gas tanker?” George gasped.
“I don't think so,” Nancy said, frowning. “It's farther away.” Just then she spotted a plume of dust and smoke climbing skyward behind the lodgeâfrom the direction of Miner's Creek.
Rachel gasped, her face pale with fright. “The stream!” she cried, beginning to run in the direction of the blast. Nancy was right behind her, with George and Bess just a few steps back.
The girls reached the lodge and fell into single file as they scrambled down the narrow trail to the stream. The low bushes scratched at their legs and caught their clothing. Rachel seemed not to notice, darting down the trail at top speed, and Nancy wasn't about to fall behind. She knew Rachel might be rushing into a dangerous situation.
When they reached the creek, Nancy quickly sawwhat the explosives had been used for. Someone had blown up the dam! A three-foot-wide section was gone, leaving a gaping hole in the middle. Rocks and pieces of concrete were scattered everywhere. Muddy water had rushed into the stream, turning it a milky brown.
Nancy's trained eyes quickly scanned the banks of the stream. Whoever had set the explosives had disappeared.
“The spawning bed is ruined!” Rachel said. She sounded close to tears. “A whole year's work destroyed. And so close to spawning season, too.” She stood on the edge of the water, clenching and unclenching her fists. Her eyes grew moist and finally overflowed. Tears trickled down her cheeks.
Nancy was about to wade across the creek to inspect the dam more closely when Charlie rushed down the trail behind her.
“What happened here?” Charlie demanded. “Who did this?”
“We don't know, Granddad,” Rachel said with a sniff. “We came as soon as we heard the noise.” Charlie put an arm around his granddaughter's shoulder.
“Someone blew up the dam?” Pete sounded shocked as he, too, arrived at the scene.
Nancy wondered if Pete's surprise was all an act. He could easily have set the charge himself after the girls had left to look for the vehicle.
“Yes,” Nancy told him. “Do you have any idea who might have done this?”
She watched Pete's reaction closely. His face clouded over immediately.
“That better not be an accusation,” he said, frowning. “I was up taking care of that fool jeep.”
“What's wrong with the jeep?” Charlie asked. His body grew tense with anger as Pete and Rachel told him about the runaway jeep and the near-explosion. Rachel added that they had looked for a vehicle seen near the meadow. Then Pete told Charlie about untangling the rope from the jeep's steering wheel and returning the jeep to its place by the barn.
“This is getting way out of hand,” Charlie said. “I'm calling the sheriff right now.”
“Good idea,” Nancy said, and Charlie started back up the hill.
Nancy turned to the others. “In the meantime, let's look around here for clues.”
George, Bess, and Pete began to search the creek bank while Nancy and Rachel used the fallen tree to cross to the opposite side. Nancy had just jumped to the ground when she heard another small explosion.
She turned to see George fall backward as a small puff of smoke rose from the rocks in front of her. George landed on a mossy rock and slipped into the creek.
“George!” Nancy yelled as she splashed into the water after her friend.
Pete was in the water almost as quickly, and together they helped George to her feet.
“I'm okay,” George said, trying to laugh. “I needed a swim, anyway, after all the running around we've been doing.”
“You're a good sport, George, but whoever's doing all these things certainly isn't,” Nancy said, wading out of the cold water. Rachel had scrambled across the log. She offered a hand to Nancy, and Bess helped George, as the two girls climbed up from the creek, their wet tennis shoes slipping on the round rocks of the bank.
Nancy immediately searched the ground where George had been standing. On one rock she found a black, smoky mark. Near the mark was a small piece of metal. Nancy picked it up as Pete knelt down beside her.
“Copper,” he said. “It looks like what's left of a blasting cap. Whoever set that explosion off must have dropped it.”
“On purpose?” Bess asked.
“Maybe,” Nancy said slowly. “But it probably fell when they were hurrying away.”
“What made it go off next to me?” George said.
“Blasting caps go off easily if they're bumped,” Pete explained. “You might have kicked a rock onto it or something.”
“What exactly are blasting caps used for?” Nancy asked.
“They set off other explosives, like dynamite,” Pete told her. “Usually, it's attached to a fuse and dropped inside a stick of dynamite. Then theperson lights the fuse. When it burns down, the blasting cap blows up and sets off the dynamite.”
“How much time would a person have to get away after the fuse was lit?” Nancy asked.
“Oh, ten or fifteen minutes. More if they made the fuse longer,” Pete said.
“We'd better be careful,” Nancy said. “There could be more blasting caps around here.” She slipped the piece of copper into her pocket. But after twenty minutes of searching on both sides of the creek, no more clues were discovered.
“I don't think we're going to find anything more here,” Nancy said with a sigh.
“How about lunch, then?” Bess suggested.
“Uh-oh,” Rachel said. “I'm supposed to be helping Elsa fix it. I hope she's not mad.”
The group headed up the trail in silence. When they reached the top, Pete headed to the barn, saying he still had chores to finish. George went to the cabin to change into dry clothes. Nancy quickly changed her shoes, then joined Bess and Rachel as they walked across the clearing in front of the lodge. They passed little Aaron Kauffman, who was “mining” for gold in a pile of dirt.
On the porch of the lodge the girls were greeted by Tyler, who was reading with his feet propped up on the railing. He looked fresh and clean, but Nancy noticed that the bottoms of both trouser legs were water-marked. Could he have been wading in Miner's Creek? And if so, could he have been near the spawning grounds?
“Aaron said there was âa big boom' here a while ago,” Tyler said pleasantly as they approached. He laid the book in his lap. “Do any of you know what it was?”
“It was my dam.” Rachel spoke in a level but quiet voice. “Someone blew it up.”
Tyler pulled his feet off the railing and sat up straight. He pushed his reading glasses up on his head and looked suddenly concerned.
“Another disaster?” Tyler said.
“Looks that way,” Rachel said with a sigh. “Someone's really out to get us.”
“Is the spawning bed damaged?” Tyler asked. “Thatisan important consideration to the state buying this land, you know. With so many of the salmon runs threatened, protecting them is a top priority with the government.”
Rachel fell quickly silent. Too late, she had realized that she was giving Senator Callihan's aide information that could stop the land sale.
“There's been some damage to the spawning bed,” Nancy said lightly, trying to ease Tyler's concern. “But Rachel can repair it before the salmon come upstream. Right, Rachel?”
“Right,” Rachel said, but she sounded uncertain. “I'd better go and apologize to Elsa for being late for kitchen duty.” She pushed open the screen door and headed inside the lodge.
“We're asking everyone if they've seen any strange activity by the creek this morning,” Nancysaid. She looked pointedly at Tyler's pant legs. “Looks like you were in the creek.”
“Just behind my own cabin,” Tyler said with a shrug. He looked slyly at Nancy. She was sure he'd guessed what she was getting at with her questioning. “I was looking for some black sand,” Tyler went on. “And before that I was in town buying this book. I suppose that's why I didn't hear the blast myself.” He held up a book with a bright gold cover, titledProspecting History and Methods.
“I thought you weren't interested in gold,” Nancy said.
“I'm not, but Senator Callihan is. I mentioned the story about that lost gold mine, and he said he wanted more information for his report. If thereisgold on the property, that could complicate our making it a park. Some people think gold should be mined, and that wouldn't be allowed on park land.” Tyler closed his book and handed it to Nancy. “I've read enough. Maybe you'd like to take a look at it yourself. You seem to be interested in things like that.”
“As a matter of fact, I would like to read it,” Nancy said. “It should make our ride to Prospector's Canyon tomorrow more interesting.”
She took the book and followed Bess inside for a lunch of chicken salad sandwiches and fresh peaches with milk.
“I thought Bess would appreciate some âtame' food today,” Elsa teased.
Bess's face turned red as she remembered the venison episode the night before.
Everyone was still eating when the sheriff's deputy arrived. Nancy gave him the remains of the blasting cap and told him what she knew about the near-disaster with the jeep. Charlie left his lunch to take the deputy to see the ruined dam. Nancy decided not to go along. She was pretty sure the deputy wouldn't find any more clues, and she knew she could get a report from Charlie later.
“I have to help Elsa for a while,” Rachel said when they had finished their sandwiches. “I guess you guys are on your own for the rest of the afternoon.”
“That's okay,” Nancy said. “I'm going to read this book about prospecting.”
“There are some hammocks in the trees by Miner's Creek,” Rachel said. “It's a perfect spot for reading.”
“Sounds great,” Bess agreed.
Soon Nancy, Bess, and George were swaying comfortably in large hammocks tied to huge evergreen trees. Miner's Creek babbled gently in the background.
“Nancy, do you have any idea who is trying to stop the sale of the retreat?” Bess asked.
Nancy sighed. “Not really. For the time being, we don't have much to go on.”
Bess gazed through the tree branches toward the blue sky. “I think Maddie and Pete are definitely suspects,” Bess said. “They both seem to be aroundwhen things go wrong. Maddie even showed up at the fire, remember?”
“Yes, but Pete had been in the meadow that morning, too,” Nancy said.
“And Pete was taking care of the jeep when the explosives were set,” George pointed out.
“Undoing the rope from the jeep's steering wheel and parking it back next to the barn could have been done quickly,” Nancy said. “I think Pete could have done that and set the explosive, too. A long fuse would have given him time to circle around behind the lodge before it went off, then come down the trail as though he were coming from the barn.”
George nodded. “I guess you're right.”
“And then there's Tyler,” Nancy said. “I don't know if I believe his story about being in the creek looking for black sand.”
“And he could be the one who's been losing the land sale documents in the senator's office,” Bess added.
“But if Maddie is telling the truth, there's another suspect,” Nancy said. “Someone driving the vehicle she saw by the retreat's driveway.”
“That's true. And we did see tire tracks near the fire,” George said. “So where does that leave us?”
“Tired,” Bess said.
Nancy and George laughed, and then all three fell silent. George and Bess were soon lulled into sleep by the gentle rustle of the breeze in the pine trees. Nancy concentrated on her book. It was filledwith fascinating stories of lost mines and the tricks old prospectors used to protect their secrets.
Suddenly she jumped from her hammock, startling her sleepy friends. Bess nearly fell out of her hammock.
“What is it?” George asked anxiously.
“I'm not sure,” Nancy answered. “But I have an idea.”
Nancy dashed to their cabin, followed by George and Bess. She threw open her suitcase and pulled out the scrap of paper she had found near the fire, examining it carefully.
“Yes!” she shouted, waving the paper in the air triumphantly. “This is going to help us solve the mystery!”8Piecing Things Together
“What do you mean?” George asked.
“I know what this slip of paper is,” Nancy said. “It's a report from an assay laboratory, where rocks are analyzed for different minerals. I bet this is an analysis for gold on a rock from the retreat. Look.” Nancy showed the girls a page that had an example of an assay report.
Then Nancy set the small scrap of paper she'd found near the fire down on top of a larger piece of scratch paper. She began to fill in the missing letters. As she completed the words, it began to look more and more like the example in the book.
“The first line is the date, and the third line is the address of the laboratory,” Nancy said. “We still don't know the address, but I think I can figure out the rest.”
As she scribbled, “say Labo” became “AssayLaboratory,” “eport” became “Report,” and “mple #653” became “Sample #653.”
“What's âand Re'?” George asked.
“Maybe it's âand regarding,'â” Bess said.
“I don't think so,” Nancy said. “Watch.”
She continued to work her pencil. “and Re” quickly became “Highland Retreat.”
“Of course,” George said. “So it does have some connection to the retreat.”
“And because I found it near the fire, I'm betting that the same person who is looking for gold also set the fire,” Nancy said, setting down her pencil.
“Then someone really believes there's gold here?” Bess said.
Nancy nodded. “I think someone believes that the legend of Miner's Creek is more than just a tall tale.”
“But why set the fires?” George still looked confused.
“Remember what Tyler said about the retreat becoming a park?” Nancy said.
“No prospecting or mining would be allowed,” Bess finished.
“So there would be park rangers around to make sure no one broke the rules,” George added. “If someone is after the gold, they need to stop the land sale.”
“Did I hear someone say gold?” a teasing voice came from behind the girls. They turned to see their pilot, B.D. Eastham, standing at the screen door of their cabin.
“Sorry to interrupt,” B.D. said cheerfully. “I just stopped by to say hi.”
Nancy quickly stuffed the scrap of paper into her pocket and stepped outside to greet B.D.
“We've decided to become prospectors,” she said, holding up the book she had been reading.
“Rachel's taking us to Prospector's Canyon tomorrow,” George put in. “We're all planning to strike it rich.”
“You know a lot of history about this area,” Nancy said to B.D. “What do you think of the legend of Miner's Creek? Do you believe it?”
B.D. folded his arms. “You bet,” he said with a wink. “Just like I believe in the tooth fairy.”
“Then you think it's all a hoax?” Bess said.
“Let's just say I don't think you should waste your vacation looking for gold,” B.D. said. “There are plenty of other things to do around here.”
“What brings you here today?” Nancy asked, casually changing the subject.
“Oh, I brought up some supplies and mail for Charlie,” he said.
“I think he's still with the sheriff,” Nancy told him.
B.D. raised his brows. “The sheriff? Has something happened?” he asked.
“Just a fire, an explosion, and a runaway jeep,” George said.
“Was anyone hurt?” B.D. asked.
“Not so far,” Nancy said.
“It seems like a lot of things have gone wrongsince Charlie started talking about selling this place for a park,” B.D. said. “Maybe he should just give it up.”
“Give up what?” Charlie came up beside B.D., sounding happy to see his good friend. The sheriff's deputy was with him.
“I was just looking for you,” B.D. said. “I've got some mail. By the way, I hear you've had more trouble.”
“I'm afraid so,” Charlie said. “The deputy here wanted to ask Nancy a question or two before he left. He's been looking into things.”
“Any clues as to who set the explosives and sabotaged the jeep?” Bess asked the deputy.
The deputy shook his head. “Unfortunately, I haven't found much to go on. Charlie said he kept a key in the jeep's ashtray, so most anyone could have started the vehicle,” he said. “Nancy, when you got to the jeep, did you see anything or take anything out of the jeep?”
“No, I didn't take anything,” Nancy said. “Did you talk to Pete?”
“Yes,” the deputy said. “He showed me the board and rope. There was nothing else to go on, and I didn't find any usable fingerprints.” He turned to Charlie. “I don't know what more I can do than file a report. Call me if anything else happens.”
The deputy walked to his patrol car, and Charlie and B.D. strolled toward the lodge.
The girls were soon back in their hammocks. Nancy began poring over the pages of her book again.
“It shows a picture here of a gold nugget the size of a walnut,” Nancy reported to Bess and George. “It only weighs three ounces, but it could be worth more than a thousand dollars, even more to collectors because it's an unusual shape.”
“And that's for one nugget,” Bess said. “Think what a whole gold mine could be worth.”
“Millions,” Nancy said. “And there's a story here from an old newspaper about a ton of gold that was mined from one ore pocket.”
Just then Rachel walked down from the lodge. “So what happened while I was away?” she asked, leaning against one of the trees. “Are you guys having a nice rest?”
George quickly told Rachel what Nancy had discovered about the piece of paper she'd found in the meadow.
“I think someone who believes the story of Jeremiah Benner's mine is hunting for gold here and trying to sabotage the land sale,” Nancy said. “Someone doesn't want the gold protected in a park.” She sat up on the edge of her hammock. “Rachel, are there any papers or letters from Jeremiah and Cyrus's prospecting days that aren't up on the wall?” Nancy asked. “Anything besides what we've already seen?”
“Well, there are some things left in a box inGranddad's desk,” Rachel said, twisting the end of her ponytail thoughtfully. “He just put the best stuff up for guests to see.”
“Maybe we could find another clue if we looked at the box,” Nancy said.
The girls followed Rachel back to the lodge. She pulled a cardboard box from a drawer of the large rolltop desk, and the four of them settled down on the hearth of the giant fireplace to sort through old deeds, marriage licenses, and letters. One slightly blurry picture showed Jeremiah and Cyrus together.
“Granddad said that was taken when they first became partners,” Rachel said. “Too bad it's not a better picture.”
Nancy could just make out the twin white rocks each man held. She guessed they were the two pieces of quartz ore that Jeremiah had brought out of the mountain on the day he'd found the mine.
“Do you see anything that will help?” Rachel asked, after nearly an hour of searching.
“I'm afraid not,” Nancy said, shaking her head. “It seems like we have lots of information, but not many solid clues.”
“I hope you won't give up,” Rachel said.
“Don't worry about that,” said Bess with a grin. “Nancy never gives up on a mystery.”
The girls carefully placed the papers and photographs back in the box while Rachel went to help Elsa fix dinner. Soon they were all seated around the long table, listening to B.D.'s lively stories aboutwild plane rides and old fur traders. He was a natural storyteller, and he made dramatic gestures with his hands as he talked. A good actor, Nancy thought.
“It's nice you could stay for dinner,” Charlie said to B.D. “With all the problems we've been having lately, good friends make especially good company.”
The Kauffmans seemed to be enjoying B.D.'s stories as well, especially little Aaron. He was busily making airplane noises over his plate.
The honeymooning Smythes, Nancy noticed, seemed to be more interested in each other than in B.D.'s wild stories.
“Are you coming with us to Prospector's Canyon?” Aaron asked B.D. “We're going to find a lost gold mine.”
“What time?” B.D. asked.
“Ten o'clock sharp,” Rachel said. “I'm playing guide.”
“I'm afraid I have to work,” B.D. said. “But my guess is you'll be disappointed about the gold, anyway. The only gold up there is fool's gold.”
Nancy thought it was rude of B.D. to ruin Aaron's hopes so needlessly, especially since B.D. himself was such a good storyteller. But she said nothing, and Aaron seemed not to notice as he continued to make airplane sounds.
After dinner B.D. excused himself, ruffled Aaron's hair playfully, and started for the door.
“I'm going to go get a sweater from the cabin,” Nancy said.
“I'll come with you,” George said. They accompanied B.D. to the door.
“That was quite a plane ride you gave us the other day,” Nancy said casually. “Was it as rough when you flew Tyler in later that evening?”
B.D. hesitated, as though trying to remember.
“Tyler came the night before,” B.D. said finally. “His flight was smooth as silk.”
“But he didn't arrive here at the retreat until the next night,” Nancy said, frowning.
“He stayed in town a day, I believe,” B.D. said. “I offered to drive him to the retreat, but he said he was staying over and would rent a car.”
Nancy's eyes widened as B.D. said good night and walked to his pickup truck.
“Tyler lied,” Nancy said to George as B.D. started his pickup. “He was in town the morning of the fire.”9Ride into Danger
George followed Nancy back into the lodge, where the other guests were still talking around the big table.
“You know, I think I'll skip the sweater and just go back to the cabin to get some rest,” Nancy told everyone. “After all that's happened today, I'm beat.”
Rachel was telling the group about a pair of red-tailed hawks nesting on the other side of the meadow. Bess looked up from a cup of steaming tea. Nancy had a feeling her friend wasn't ready to budge from her comfortable chair.
“I guess we'llallneed our rest for the ride up Miner's Creek tomorrow,” she said, hoping Bess would realize that she wanted to talk.
“Nancy's right,” George said quickly. “I think I'll turn in, too. Coming, Bess?”
Bess took one last longing look at her sweet-smelling tea and agreed that it was time for bed.
The three filed out of the lodge and headed back to their cabin.
“Okay, what's up?” Bess asked when the door was finally closed.
“Tyler lied,” Nancy said. “B.D. said Tyler flew into town the daybeforewe did. That means Tyler was here when the fire started.”
“And he was the one with the book on gold prospecting,” George said, flopping down on her bunk. “Do you think he's trying to find the gold for himself?”
“He's certainly moving up on our list of suspects,” Nancy said.
“But is there really any gold?” Bess asked, throwing up her hands. “Tyler isn't the only one who says the story about Jeremiah's mine is a hoax. Charlie and B.D. think the same thing.”
“But Tyler could be lying to cover up his real interest,” Nancy said.
“Well, if thereisa gold mine, why wouldn't it have been found after all these years?” George asked.
“It could be underground,” Nancy said slowly. “According to that book Tyler loaned me, the quartz and gold were left here by ancient volcanoes.” She picked up the book and flipped through the pages. “ââSometimes the gold is visible in long veins that can be followed along a hillside,'â” Nancy read. “ââBut gold can also be found in pockets, manyof them underground. Some pockets are the size of a fist. Others are the size of a large room.'â” She stopped at a page in the book that showed a diagram of a mountain and the placement of gold pockets. She handed the open book to George.
“But how would Jeremiah have found the gold in the first place?” Bess asked.
“Mostly luck,” Nancy said. “But also some detective work. Pocket miners searched for pieces of gold ore on the ground and made a mark on a map for every spot where they found it. That way, by connecting the dots, they could start to form a trail of gold ore.”
“So the pocket of gold was at the end of the trail,” George said, looking at the diagram.
“Yes, if they were lucky enough to find it,” Nancy said. “Like the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, I guess.”
“Maybe we could use the same method to find the gold ourselves,” George suggested.
Nancy shook her head. “That would take months, or even years. Besides, if Jeremiah picked up the pieces of ore, there wouldn't be a trail for us to follow,” she said.
“Oh, well,” George said with a shrug. “The ride up Miner's Creek tomorrow should be interesting, anyway. Who knows, we might get lucky, too.”
“Right,” Nancy said. “And there's one other thing I want to do in the morning. Remember that second offer that Charlie got for his land?”
“You mean from the preservation group?”George asked. She closed the book and set it back on the nightstand.
“Yes. I want to get some background on them,” Nancy said. “And while I do that, you two can check on the other guests and Elsa Parker. We might as well see who has alibis for all of these incidents.”
“I guess you were right when you said we'd need to be rested for tomorrow,” Bess said, as she pulled on pajamas. “With all the investigating we've got planned, we'd better get to sleep.”
“Agreed,” George said. “That bunk is looking pretty good to me.”
Bess and George fell asleep quickly. Nancy tried, without success, to guess who was out to destroy the retreat. But there were too many possible culprits, and she finally dozed off.
â¢Â â¢Â â¢
When morning came, Nancy, Bess, and George headed over to the lodge for breakfast. They had agreed that Bess would wait there for the Smythes, and George would try to link up with the Kauffmans when they came in for breakfast. George would talk to Elsa, too.
“Could you use some help in here? I'd love to see firsthand where that wonderful smell is coming from,” George said cheerfully as she stuck her head into the kitchen.
Rachel accepted her offer before Elsa had a chance to object.
Nancy and Bess ate jam-filled Danish pastries andfinished several glasses of orange juice, which George served with a wink.
“I think George is enjoying her detective work,” Bess whispered to Nancy.
“It looks as if you're about to get your turn,” Nancy said to Bess as the Smythes walked in the front door of the lodge.
“I'm thinking of taking a walk later,” Bess said to Todd and Beth after they had joined the girls at the table. “I have no idea what part of the retreat is best. Do you know a good place to go?” Her friendly show of interest got her an instant invitation from Beth to hear about all of their adventures at Highland Retreat.
Nancy finished her pastry and asked Rachel if she could use the phone in Charlie's office while he was doing errands in town. She pulled the preservation group's letter from her pocket and tried the number printed at the top.
“You've reached the Nature Preservation League,” said a man's voice at the other end. Nancy knew immediately that it was a recording, and not a very clear one at that.
“Please leave your name, phone number, and the nature of your business,” the voice said.
Nancy hung up quickly and called directory assistance. When she put the receiver down a minute later, her curiosity had been raised. There was no listing for the Nature Preservation League.
Nancy took a few moments to gather her thoughts, then dialed the number on the letterheada second time. She waited for the beep at the end of the recorded message.
“I'd like to make a rather large donation to your very important cause,” Nancy said into the phone. She knew that if the league was legitimate, they would be eager to talk to her. “Please call me to discuss the details.”
She gave the phone number of her father's office in River Heights, and then quickly called Garson Drew himself.
“Nancy! How are you? And how are Charlie and Rachel?” her father asked when he heard her voice.
“They're having some problems with the sale, I'm afraid,” Nancy told him. “That's why I called. I need your help with something.”
“Am I getting in on a mystery?” Carson asked with a chuckle.
“Yes, but you'll have to wait for all the details,” Nancy said. She told him quickly about the Nature Preservation League and her phone call to them.
“I need to know right away if they return my call,” she said. “Oh, and Dad, do you know a Senator John P. Callihan, or his aide, Tyler Nelson?”
“Sorry, I'm no help there. Washington State is a long way from River Heights,” Carson said. “I suppose you want me to check on them, too.”
“Thanks, Dad. You're the best.” Nancy said goodbye and hung up the phone. Then she replacedthe preservation group's letter in the desk. She was deep in thought when George tapped on the door and stepped into Charlie's office.
“Elsa said she was in the kitchen all day yesterday,” George told Nancy in a low voice. “And I believe her. She made those rolls from scratch. Plus three blueberry pies for dinner tonight, and homemade croutons for the salad.”
“You're right. That probably wouldn't leave Elsa much time to rig a jeep or blow up a dam,” Nancy said. “What about the Kauffmans?”
“They went into town after their early breakfast,” George reported. “Aaron told me they got back just in time to hear âthe big boom.'â” George used her hands to show how Aaron had described the sound of the dam blowing up.
“That seems to leave them in the clear,” Nancy said. “I wonder what Bess found out.”
As if on cue, Bess walked through the front door of the lodge. She pulled up a chair beside Nancy and George and began to rub her legs.
“Todd and Beth are in awfully good shape,” she said. “I would have been better off helping in the kitchen than trying to keep up with them.”
Bess reported that she had invited herself on the Smythes' morning jog through the meadow, but she had made only one short loop before giving up.
“I did see the hawk's nest that Rachel told us about at dinner last night,” she explained. “Apparently Rachel had told Todd and Beth about ityesterday morning. They watched the nest all day. They even showed me the small blind they built so the mother hawk couldn't see them.”
“It sounds as if we've narrowed down our list of suspects,” Nancy said. “And I've got a call in to the Nature Preservation League.”
She told Bess and George about her phone calls to the league and to her father, finishing up just as the retreat's big triangle gong sounded.
“That's the signal for our ride up Miner's Creek,” George said.
The three girls walked to the barn, where they found a group of horses saddled and waiting. Rachel had just finished tying saddlebags full of lunches on her big brown mare. She directed Nancy toward a palomino named Heather. George took the reins of a black-and-white pinto, and Bess climbed aboard a calm, all-black mount.
Todd and Beth Smythe were already sitting on matching bays. Pete helped Shirley and Frank Kauffman onto their horses, then slid Aaron onto a gentle pony that he guaranteed was “a hundred percent safe.”