By eleven o’clock the next morning, the two girls were on their way to Caleb Corners in Penny’s car. Both wore high boots, heavy shirts, and riding breeches, having dressed carefully for the swamp.

“I had one awful time convincing Dad and Mrs. Weems I should make this trip,” Penny remarked as they parked the car under a giant oak not far from Trapper Joe’s shack on the river creek. “If we hadn’t had Bones for an excuse, they never would have allowed me to go.”

Louise stared curiously at her chum.

“Why else would we make the trip?” she inquired.

“Oh, we’re going there to find Bones,” Penny assured her hastily. “But if we should meet Ezekiel Hawkins or whoever was on the island—”

“My parents made it very clear I’m not to go to the island unless Trapper Joe is with us.”

“So did my father, unfortunately,” sighed Penny.

As the girls approached Trapper Joe’s shack, they saw smoke issuing in a straight column from the rear of the premises.

Investigating, they found the old guide roasting a fat turkey on a spit which slowly revolved above a fire of cherry red coals.

“Howdy,” the old man greeted them. “You’re jest in time fer some victuals.”

“Lunch so early?” Louise asked in surprise.

“It hain’t breakfast and it hain’t lunch,” the trapper chuckled. “I eat when I’m hongry, an’ right now I feel a hankerin’ fer food. Kin I give you a nice turkey leg?”

The girls looked at the delicately browned fowl and wavered.

“I’ll fetch you’uns each a plate,” the trapper offered.

From the shack he brought two cracked ones and forks with bent tines. To each of the girls he gave a generous helping, saving for himself a large slice of breast.

“What brings ye here today?” he presently asked. “Be ye aimin’ to rent my boat again?”

“Providing your services go with it,” Penny replied. “We want to search for Louise’s dog.”

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

“All the same, we’ve planned on searching the island thoroughly. Will you take us?”

Trapper Joe tossed away a turkey bone as he observed: “There’s cottonmouths on that island and all manner o’ varmints.”

“That’s why we want you to go with us,” Penny urged. “We’ll be safe with you.”

“I hain’t so sartain I’ll be safe myself,” Joe argued. “My gun’s been stole. Some thieven scalawag made off with it late last night while I was skinnin’ an animal. Left it a-settin’ against a post down by the dock. The rascal took my gun and some salted meat I had in a crock!”

“Someone who came from the swamp?” Penny asked quickly.

“’Pears he must o’ come from there.”

“Could the thief have been one of the Hawkins family?”

“’Tain’t likely,” the guide replied. “They all got good guns o’ their own. Anyhow, the Hawkins’ hain’t never stooped so low they’d steal from a neighbor.”

“Will you take us in your boat?” Louise urged impatiently. “We’ll pay you well for your time. If we find Bones, you’ll receive an extra twenty-five dollars.”

“It hain’t the money. Lookin’ fer that dog would be like lookin’ fer a needle in a haystack.”

“You might accidently run into the person who stole your gun,” Penny suggested.

“Now, there’d be some sense to that,” the trapper said with sudden interest. “I’d like to lay hands on him!”

“Then you’ll go?” the girls demanded together.

“’Pears like I will,” he said, his leathery face cracking into a smile. “’Tain’t smart going into the swamp without a gun, but we kin trust to Providence an’ our wits, I calculate.”

Pleased that the trapper had consented, the girls leaped to their feet and started toward the skiff which was tied up at the dock.

“Not so fast!” the trapper brought them up short. “We got to take some water and some victuals with us.”

“But we’re not going far,” Louise said in surprise. “We just ate.”

“Ye can git mighty hongry and thirsty, rowin’ in a broiling hot sun. When I go into the swamp, I always takes rations along jest in case.”

“Surely you don’t expect to lose your way,” Penny said teasingly. “An old timer like you!”

“I’m an old timer ’cause I always prepares fer the wust,” the trapper retorted witheringly. “Many a young punk’s give his life being show-off and foolhardy in that swamp. I was lost there oncst years ago. I hain’t never forgot my lesson.”

Properly put in their places, Penny and Louise said no more as Trapper Joe prepared for the trip into the swamp. He wrapped the remains of the turkey in a paper, depositing it in a covered metal container in the bottom of the skiff.

Also, he dropped in a jug of water and an extra paddle.

“Tell us about the swamp,” Louise urged as they finally shoved off. “Is it filled with wild and dangerous animals?”

“Bears mostly been killed off,” the old trapper replied, sending the skiff along with powerful stabs of the oars. “The rooters are about the wust ye run into now.”

“Rooters?” Louise repeated, puzzled.

“Wild hogs. They got a hide so tough even the rattlers can’t kill ’em. It’s most likely yer dogs been et by one.”

“Oh, no!” Louise protested in horror.

“Rooters’ll go straight fer a dog or a deer or a lamb. They’ll attack a man too if they’re hongry enough. Their tusks are sharp as daggers.”

Penny quickly changed the subject by asking Trapper Joe if he thought Pretty Boy Danny Deevers might be hiding in the swamp.

“’Tain’t likely,” he replied briefly.

“Why do you think not?”

“City bred, waren’t he?”

“That’s what I was told.”

“No city bred feller could live in the swamp many days. He wouldn’t have sense enough to git his food; at night the sounds would drive him crazy, and he’d end up bein’ bit by a snake.”

“Yet someone stole your gun,” Penny reminded him.

“It waren’t Danny,” said the old trapper with finality.

The skiff glided on. As the sun rose high overhead pouring down upon their backs, Penny and Louise began to feel drowsy. Repeatedly, they reached for Joe’s jug of water.

As the channel became congested with floating plants and rotted logs, the trapper shipped the oars and used a paddle.

Presently they came within view of Lookout Island. In the bow, Penny leaned forward to peer at the jungle-like growth which grew densely to the water’s edge.

“Someone’s on the island!” she exclaimed in a low voice.

“Sure, it’s Coon Hawkins doin’ a little fishin’,” agreed the trapper. “His boat’s pulled up on the point.”

Louise stirred uneasily. “Is anyone with him?” she whispered.

“Don’t see no one ’cepting Coon. He won’t hurt ye. Harmless, ole Coon is, an’ mighty shiftless too.”

“But is Coon really fishing?” Penny demanded suspiciously.

“He’s got a pole and a string o’ fish.”

“Also, he’s watching us very closely,” whispered Penny. “I don’t trust him one bit! He’s hiding something on that island! I’ll be surprised if he doesn’t try to keep us from landing.”

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