With a sob of relief, Penny whirled around to thank her rescuer. Through the thick leaves of the bushes she could see the shadowy figure of a man. But even as she watched, he retreated.

“Wait!” the girl cried.

There was no answer, and before she could call out a word of thanks for deliverance, the man had vanished.

His disappearance reminded her that though she had been snatched from the jaws of death, the danger by no means was over. At any moment the herd of rooters might return to attack.

Turning, Penny ran swiftly to the planked walk, in her haste not watching where she stepped. Her boots sank deeply in muck. Once on the planks well above the water level, she paused to catch her breath, and to gaze searchingly toward the bushes. All now was still.

“Who could my rescuer have been?” she mused. “Why didn’t he wait for me to thank him?”

Penny called several times but received no reply. Finally, giving up, she started slowly back along the walk toward the bay where she had left Louise.

More than the girl realized, the adventure had unnerved her. She felt weak all over, and several times as she gazed steadily at the water, became dizzy and nearly lost her balance.

“Guess I’m not tough enough for swamp life,” she reflected. “If ever I get out of here in one piece, I’m tempted to forget Danny Deevers and let the police do all the searching.”

Footsteps became audible on the boardwalk some distance away.

Every sense now alert to danger, Penny halted to listen.

Someone was coming toward her, moving swiftly on the creaking planks.

“Penny!” called an agitated voice.

Penny relaxed as she knew that it was her chum. “Louise!” she answered, running to meet her.

Rounding a clump of bushes, and walking gingerly on the narrow boards, Louise stopped short as she beheld her friend.

“Why, you’re as white as a ghost!” she exclaimed. “And I distinctly heard you shout! What happened? Did you see a snake?”

“A snake would be mild compared to what I’ve been through. Were you ever eaten alive?”

“Not that I recall.”

“Well, I escaped it by the skin of my teeth,” Penny said, rather relishing the adventure now that the story made such good telling. “I was saved by a mysterious stranger!”

Louise gazed at her chum anxiously and reached out to touch her forehead. “You’re hot and feverish,” she insisted. “This trip has been too much for you.”

“I’m as cool as a piece of artificial ice!” Penny retorted. “Furthermore, I’m not touched by the heat!”

“Well, something is wrong with you.”

“I’ve just had the fright of my life, that’s all. If you’ll give me a chance, I’ll tell you what happened.”

“The stage is all yours, sweet. But don’t give me any tall tale about being rescued by a Prince Charming disguised as a frog!”

Penny’s lips compressed into a tight line. “I can see you’ll never believe the truth, Lou. So I’ll prove it to you! Come with me, and I’ll show you the animal that nearly made mince meat of me.”

Treading single file, the girls returned the way Penny had come, to the end of the planks.

“Look over at the base of that big tree,” Penny instructed, pointing. “What do you see?”


“The boar that was shot—why, it should be there!” Penny scarcely could believe the sight of her own eyes. “But it’s gone!”

“It’s gone because it never was there. Penny, you’re suffering from too much heat.”

“I’m not! Neither am I imagining things! That old boar was there ten minutes ago. Either he came back to life and went off, or someone dragged him away.”

“And your mysterious rescuer?” Louise teased. “What became of him?”

“I wish I knew! Lou, I’m not imagining any of this! Surely you must have heard the shot?”

“Well, I did hear something that sounded like one.”

“Also, the lunch is gone. All that remains of it, is the paper lying over there by the tree.”

“I do see a newspaper,” Louise conceded.

“And that broken tree branch lying on the ground? I was up the tree and threw it at the boar. That’s how I lost my balance and fell.”

Louise now was convinced the story had solid foundation. “Start from the beginning,” she urged.

Penny related what had occurred, rather building up the scene in which she had been delivered from death by the bullet shot from behind a bush.

“Whoever the man is, he must be somewhere close by,” Louise said when she had finished. “Perhaps we can find him.”

“Not a chance! He’s deliberately hiding. Besides, I know better than to leave the walk again. It’s dangerous!”

“In that case we may as well go back and wait for Joe,” Louise said.

Treading their way carefully, the girls returned to the far end of the boardwalk. To their surprise, they saw a boat approaching.

“Why, it looks like Joe in the skiff!” Penny commented. “But he isn’t due back for a long while yet.”

Watching the oncoming boat for a moment, Louise said: “It’s Joe all right, and he’s coming fast. Something must be wrong.”

Soon the guide brought the skiff alongside the sagging boardwalk.

“I heard a shot and started back,” he explained. “I sure am glad to see both o’ ye safe.”

Before Penny could do so, Louise told Joe what had befallen her chum.

“Ye could have been kilt by that old boar,” he said soberly. “It was the package o’ meat that drew them rooters to the tree. They hain’t likely to attack a human lest they’re half starved.”

“I wish I knew who saved me,” Penny said. “Could it have been one of the Hawkins’ boys?”

“From the sound, I’d say that shot weren’t fired from their rifles. More’n likely it came from my own gun!”

“The stolen one?”

“That’s what I’m a-thinkin’. If I could see the bullet that was fired, I could tell fer sure.”

“The boar disappeared and the bullet with him,” Penny said. “That’s another queer thing.”

“Whoever kilt the critter may have drug him off, or maybe the animal was only stunned.” The guide squinted at the lowering sun. “I’d like powe’ful well to see the place, but it’s gitten late. We gotta git back.”

“What did you learn at Black Island?” Louise asked as she and Penny climbed into the skiff.

“Never got half way there,” the guide said in disgust. “Since I went in last time, the main channel’s clogged thick with hyacinths. To find yer way in now’s a half day’s job.”

“Can’t we try again tomorrow?” Penny asked eagerly.

The old guide gazed at her quizzically as he dipped his paddle. “Hain’t ye had enough o’ the swamp after today, young’un?”

“When that old boar came for me, I told myself if ever I got safely away, I’d never come again. But that was only a passing impulse. Black Island interests me.”

“It’s the most dangerous part of the swamp.”

“Because of wild animals, you mean?”

“There’s lots wuss things than animals,” said the old guide soberly.

“For instance?”

Trapper Joe ignored Penny’s question. Becoming as one deaf, he propelled the skiff with powerful strokes.

Penny waited patiently, but the guide showed no inclination to say more about Black Island.

“Shall we make it tomorrow?” she inquired presently.

“Make what?” Joe’s wrinkled face was blank.

“Why, I mean, shall we visit Black Island!”

“I hate to disappoint ye, but we hain’t a-goin’.”

“You may be busy tomorrow. Later in the week perhaps?”

“Not tomorrer nor never. I hain’t takin’ the responsibility o’ bringin’ ye young’uns into the swamp agin.”

“But why?” wailed Penny. “I wish now I hadn’t told you about that old boar!”

“It hain’t the boar that’s got me worried.”

“Then you must be afraid of something on Black Island—something you learned today and are keeping to yourself!”

“Maybe that’s it,” returned Joe briefly. “Anyhow, we hain’t goin’. And it won’t do no good to try coaxin’ me with yer female wiles. My mind’s made up!”

Having delivered himself of this ultimatum, the guide plied his paddle steadily.

The set of his jaw warned Penny it would be useless to tease. With a discouraged sigh, she settled down into the bottom of the skiff to think.

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