The old trapper appeared not to have heard Penny’s whispered observation. He paddled the skiff on until it drifted within ten yards of the point where Coon Hawkins sat fishing.

“Howdy!” called the trapper.

“Howdy,” responded Coon, his gaze on the bobbing cork.

“Seen anything of a dog on the island?”

“Hain’t no animal hereabouts,” Coon replied.

“’Pears like the gals has lost a dog,” said the old trapper, dipping his paddle again. “We’re landin’ to have a look around.”

Coon’s gaze shifted from the cork to the party in the boat. He scowled and then coldly turned his back.

“Suit yerself,” he said indifferently. “You won’t find no dawg here.”

Trapper Joe beached the skiff very nearly where Penny had landed a few days earlier.

“Have a keer,” he advised as the girls trod through the muck. “Watch out fer snakes.”

“Here are Bones’ tracks!” Louise cried a moment later, spying the prints which led away from the shore.

A short distance in, the tracks abruptly ended, but nearby were prints of a man’s shoe and larger ones made from a heavy boot.

Trapper Joe noted them in silence, signaling for Penny and Louise to make no comment.

“Wait here while I look around,” he instructed.

Penny and Louise sat down on a mossy log to wait. Coon paid them no heed, completely ignoring their presence. The sun climbed higher overhead.

Presently the old trapper returned, his clothing soaked with perspiration.

“Did you see anything of Bones?” Louise asked eagerly.

“Nary a sign. The dog hain’t on the island.”

“Told ye, didn’t I?” Coon demanded triumphantly.

“That ye did, son,” agreed Trapper Joe. “We’ll be gittin’ along.” On his way to the skiff, he asked carelessly: “Come here offen, do ye?”

“When I feels like it,” Coon retorted.

“Fishin’ good?”

“Fair to middlin’.”

The old trapper helped the girls into the skiff and shoved off.

“Please, must we turn back now?” Louise asked earnestly. “I hate to return without finding a trace of poor old Bones.”

“’Tain’t likely you’ll ever see the dog again.”

“We realize that,” said Penny, “but it would be a satisfaction to keep looking.”

“If the dog was still alive, it hain’t likely he’d of swum away from the island.”

“He could have been carried,” Penny said, keeping her voice low.

The swamper stared steadily at her a moment, saying nothing.

“Besides, we’d like to go deeper into the swamp just to see it,” Penny urged, sensing that he was hesitating. “It must be beautiful farther in.”

“It is purty,” the old guide agreed. “But you have to be mighty keerful.”

“Do take us,” Louise pleaded.

The old trapper raised his eyes to watch a giant crane, and then slowly turned the skiff. As he sought a sluggish channel leading deeper into the swamp, Penny noticed that Coon Hawkins had shifted his position on the point, the better to watch them.

The skiff moved on into gloomy water deeply shadowed by overhanging tree limbs. Only then did Penny ask the trapper what he thought really had happened to Louise’s dog.

“’Tain’t easy to say,” he replied, resting on the paddle a moment and taking a chew of tobacco.

Penny sensed that the old man was unwilling to express his true opinion. He stared moodily at the sluggish water, lost in deep thought.

“The Hawkins’ are up to something!” Penny declared. She was tempted to reveal what she and Salt had seen a few nights before on the swamp road, but held her tongue.

“After all, what do I know about Joe?” she reflected. “He may be a close friend of the Hawkins family for all his talk about them being a shiftless lot.”

Penny remained silent. Sensing her disappointment because he had not talked more freely, Trapper Joe presently remarked:

“You know, things goes on in the swamp that it’s best not to see. Sometimes it hain’t healthy to know too much.”

“What things do you mean?” Penny asked quickly.

Old Joe however, was not to be trapped by such a direct question.

“Jest things,” he returned evasively. “Purty here, hain’t it?”

The guide was now paddling along a sandy shore. Overhead on a bare tree branch, two racoons drowsed after their midday meal.

“In this swamp there’s places where no man has ever set foot,” the guide continued. “Beyond Black Island, in the heart o’ the swamp, it’s as wild as when everything belonged to the Indians.”

“How does one reach Black Island?” Louise inquired.

“Only a few swampers that knows all the runs would dast go that far,” said Old Joe. “If ye take a wrong turn, ye kin float around fer days without findin’ yer way out.”

“Is there only one exit—the way we came in?” Penny asked.

“No, oncst ye git to Black Island, there’s a faster way out. Ye pick yer way through a maze o’ channels ’till ye come to the main one which takes ye to the Door River.”

“You’ve made the trip?”

“Did when I was young. Hain’t been to Black Island in years lately.”

“How long does the trip take?”

“Not many hours if ye know the trail. But if ye take a wrong twist, y’er apt to wind up anywheres. We’re headin’ toward Black Island now.”

“Then why not go on?” cried Penny eagerly. “It’s still early.”

The old guide shook his head as he paddled into deeper water. “It’s jest a long, hard row and there hain’t nothin’ there. I’m takin’ ye to a place where some purty pink orchids grow. Then we’ll turn back.”

Penny suddenly sat up very straight, listening intently.

From some distance away came a faint, metallic pounding sound.

“What’s that noise?” she asked, puzzled.

The old trapper also was listening alertly.

Again the strange noise was repeated. Bing-ping-ping! Ping-ping!

“It sounds like someone pounding on a sheet of metal!” exclaimed Penny. “I’d say it’s coming from the edge of the swamp—perhaps Lookout Island!”

The trapper nodded, still listening.

Again they heard the pounding which seemed in a queer pattern of dots and dashes.

“It’s a code!” Penny declared excitedly. “Perhaps a message is being sent to someone hiding here in the swamp!”

“In all the times I’ve been in these waters, I never before heard nothin’ like that,” the guide admitted. “I wonder—”

“Yes?” Penny prodded eagerly.

But the old guide did not complete the thought. The boat now was drifting in a narrow run where boughs hung low over the water, causing the three occupants to lean far forward to avoid being brushed.

A tiny scream came from Louise’s lips. The bow of the skiff where she sat had poked its nose against a protruding tree root.

Within inches of her face, staring unblinkingly into her eyes, was a large, ugly reptile!

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