Through the leaves, Penny saw a fairly large clearing. Three men, Ezekiel Hawkins and his two sons, were squatted about a big hardwood fire over which was a large copper cooker.

A pipe extended above the cover, connected with a series of coils immersed in a barrel of cold water.

“A still!” the girl whispered. “They’re making alcohol here and selling it in the city! That’s what those containers held that were trucked away!”

“Make-a the stuff every day,” volunteered Tony. “I watch—sometimes I steal-a the lunch. They very mad but no catch.”

“They’re probably afraid you’ll tell revenue officers,” Penny whispered.

From one of the barrels, Coon had taken a dipper filled with the pale fluid. As he drank deeply from it, his father said sharply:

“Thet’s enough, Coon! We gotta git this stuff made an moved out o’ here tonight, and ye won’t be fitten.”

“What’s yer rush, Pappy? We got termorrer, hain’t we?” Coon sat down, and bracing his back against a tree trunk, yawned drowsily.

“Ye want to be caught by them lousy revenooers?”

“There hain’t no danger. Hain’t we got a fool-proof system? If anyone starts this way, Maw’ll spot ’em and give us the signal.”

“Folkses is gittin’ wise, and we hain’t none too popular hereabouts. We’re moving this stuff out tonight.”

“Jest as you say, Pappy.” Coon stirred reluctantly.

“An we hain’t operatin’ the still no more till things quiets down. I don’t like it that gal snoopin’ around here, claimin’ to be lookin’ fer her dawg.”

“Ye should have kilt the dawg, stead o’ keepin’ him,” Hod spoke up as he dumped a sack of mash into a tub. “Tole ye it would make us trouble.”

“Yer always tellin’ me!” Ezekiel retorted. “Thet dog’s handy to heve here, an I never was one to kill a helpless animal without cause. Now git to yer work, and let me do the thinkin’ fer this outfit!”

Penny’s curiosity now had been fully satisfied as to the illegal business in which the Hawkins’ family had engaged, but she also felt a little disappointed.

She had hoped the men would speak of Danny Deevers, perhaps revealing his hideout. The convict was nowhere to be seen, and there was no evidence he ever had been on Black Island.

Not wishing to leave Mrs. Jones too long alone in the boat, Penny presently motioned to Tony that she had seen and heard enough.

Inch by inch, they crept backwards away from the tiny clearing.

Then suddenly Penny stopped, for Ezekiel was speaking again:

“We gotta do something about Danny and git him off our hands.”

Penny instantly became all ears, listening intently to Coon’s reply:

“Now ye’r talkin’, Pappy. Takin’ him in was a big mistake. Hit’s apt ter land us in jail if them city officers come snoopin’ around here agin.”

“There wouldn’t have been no risk, if Hod and Danny hadn’t taken the widder’s car and drive into town. Didn’t ye have no sense, Hod?”

“Danny wanted to go,” Hod whined. “How was we ter know another car was goin’ to smash into us? Thet fool newspaper camera man an’ the girl had to be there!”

“That wasn’t the wust,” Ezekiel went on as he fed the fire with chips. “Then ye follered ’em to the theater!”

“Danny said we had ter git the picture or they’d print it in the newspaper.”

“But did ye git the picture?”

“No,” Hod growled.

“Instead o’ that, ye let Danny git into a fight.”

“’Twasn’t no fight and nobody knew it was him. He seen an enemy o’ his’n go into the building. I tried ter talk him out o’ it, but he wouldn’t listen. He crawled in through a window, and slugged the feller.”

“He did have sense enough to git rid o’ the car, but ye shouldn’t have left it so close to our place,” Ezekiel pointed out. “That newspaper gal’s been out here twict now, and she’s catchin’ on!”

“She’s only a gal,” Hod said carelessly. “Ye do too much worryin’, Pappy.”

“I do the thinkin’ fer this family. An’ I say things is gittin’ too hot fer comfort. We gotta git rid o’ Danny tonight.”

“How ye aimin’ ter do it, Pappy?” inquired Coon. “Be ye fergittin’ he’s got $50,000 hid away somewheres an’ he hain’t give us our slice yet?”

“Fer all his promises, maybe he don’t calculate ever to give us our cut! Ever think o’ that?”

“Danny would double cross us if he got the chanst,” Hod agreed. “Maybe ye’r right, Pappy!”

“Doggone tootin’, I am! We git rid o’ him tonight, soon’s we git back from this island. But first we make him tell where he hid the money!”

“How we gonna do it, Pappy?” asked Coon.

“Hain’t figured fer sure, but he’s the same as our prisoner, ain’t he? If we was to turn him over to the police, claimin’ we found him hidin’ out in the swamp, he couldn’t prove no different.”

“And we’d git $10,000 reward!” Hod added. “We could use thet money!”

“I hain’t one to double cross a pal if it can be helped,” Ezekiel amended hastily. “Now if Danny’s a mind to tell where he hid the money, and split, we’ll help him git out o’ here tonight.”

“And if he won’t cough up?”

“We’ll turn him over to police and claim the reward.”

To Penny, it now was clear Hod Hawkins had been with Danny Deevers at the time Jerry was slugged. Also, the conversation made it evident the escaped convict had sought a hideout somewhere near if not in the swamp.

Tensely, the girl waited for further details of the escape plan, but none were forthcoming. The three men applied themselves to their work and said no more.

“My best bet is to get away from here fast and notify police!” Penny thought.

Noiselessly, she and Tony retreated through the thicket to a shoreline some distance away.

“Listen, Tony!” Penny said hurriedly. “I’ve got to go away for awhile! Will you stay here and keep watch of these men for me?”

“I stay,” the boy promised soberly.

“I’ll come back as soon as I can. And Tony! Please don’t run away. I want to do something for you—perhaps I can.”

“No go back to Italy,” the boy said firmly. “Stay-a here—you come back. Then go far away. No trust pol-eese.”

Penny dared not take time to try to convince the youth of the folly of fleeing from Immigration authorities. Saying goodbye, she ran to the boat where the Widow Jones anxiously awaited her.

“Shove off!” she ordered tersely. “I’ve seen plenty! I’ll tell you about it, once we’re away from here!”

Mrs. Jones gave a mighty push with her pole, and the skiff floated out of its hiding place into the hyacinth-clogged channel.

“How is your foot?” Penny inquired. “Better let me paddle.”

“It hain’t hurtin’ so much now,” the widow replied without giving up the paddle. “I’ll steer until we’re out o’ these floatin’ hyacinth beds.”

“One place looks exactly like another to me,” Penny said anxiously. “So many false channels!”

“Ye git a feel fer it after awhile. There’s a current to follow, but it’s mighty faint.”

“We must get back as fast as we can,” Penny urged, glancing nervously over her shoulder toward Black Island. In terse sentences she told of her meeting with Tony and all they had seen in the clearing.

“So the Hawkins’ are runnin’ a still!” commented the widow. “Humph! Jest as I figured, only I didn’t dast say so without proof.”

“The important thing is they’re hiding Danny Deevers! Where they’re keeping him will be for the police to discover as soon as they arrest Ezekiel and his sons.”

“I’ll git ye back fast,” the widow promised grimly. “Soon’s we git out o’ these beds and away from the island, I kin switch on the motor.”

Safely out of sight of the island, the couple found themselves in a labyrinth of floating hyacinths with no clearly defined channel. The Widow Jones tried a half dozen of them, each time being forced to return to a point she could identify as their starting place.

“Penelope, I can’t seem to find the main channel,” she confessed at last. “’Pears like we’re lost.”

“Oh, we can’t be!” Penny exclaimed. “We must get back quickly!”

“I’m a-tryin’ hard as I kin,” the widow said doggedly.

“Let me paddle for awhile,” Penny offered. “Your ankle is hurting and you’re tired. Just tell me which way to go.”

Mrs. Jones indicated a channel which opened in a wide sweep. But before Penny had paddled far, it played out. The sun, sinking lower in the sky, warned the pair how fast time was passing.

For another hour they sought desperately to find the exit channel. Although they took turns at paddling, and used the motor whenever the passageway was not too clogged, they soon became exhausted.

“It hain’t no use,” the widow said at last. “We’re tuckered out, and we’re goin’ around in circles. We’ll pull up on shore and take a little rest.”

Penny nodded miserably.

Herons flew lazily over as the couple pulled the boat out on the soft muck. Seeking a high point of land, the widow flung herself flat on her back to rest.

For a time, Penny sat beside her, thinking over everything that had occurred. It was bitterly disappointing to realize that due purely to a stroke of bad luck, Danny Deevers undoubtedly would elude police.

“Mrs. Jones and I may not find our way out of here in twenty-four hours!” she thought. “By that time, the Hawkins’ family will have helped him escape!”

Tormented by weariness, Penny stretched out beside the widow. Insects annoyed her for awhile. Then she dozed off.

Much later when the girl awoke, she saw that her companion still slept. The shadow of dusk already was heavy upon the swamp.

Sitting up, Penny gazed resentfully across the water at an almost solid sea of floating plants.

“Such miserable luck!” she muttered. “Of all times to be lost!”

Penny’s gaze remained absently upon the hyacinth bed. The plants slowly were drifting westward. At first their movement signified nothing to the girl. Then suddenly, she sprang to her feet.

Excitedly she shook Mrs. Jones by the arm. “The channel!” she cried. “I can see it now! If we move fast, we still may get out of the swamp before night!”

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