Joe grinned. “Crocodiles aren’t house pets, you know. I’m glad nothing happened.”
Bess spoke up. “You almost gave me a heart attack, Nancy. I’m sure I would have been too terrified to jump over that wall.”
George chuckled. “I’ll bet you would have. But then, I doubt that you’d have gone into the pit in the first place.”
Joe stood shaking his head. “You’re some girl,” he said to Nancy.
She smiled, then changed the subject. “Just before I threw that chunk of meat, I saw a man peering at me from among the trees. He didn’t look one bit friendly.”
“That’s strange,” Joe said. “The only other person who works here is Eric, and he’s not around this morning.”
“It wasn’t Eric,” Nancy said, “We met him the Other day.”
“What did this guy look like?” George asked.
“He had long black hair, small eyes, and looked like an Indian,” Nancy whispered, not wishing to hurt Joe’s feelings.
“I’ll search for him,” Danny offered and ran in the direction Nancy had indicated.
Joe joined in the hunt, but both of them returned a little while later without having seen the stranger.
“I noticed footprints along the shore,” Danny reported. “They led toward the water. Whoever the man was, he wore a small-sized shoe with a rippled sole. When I reached the spot where the prints stopped, I saw a man in a small motorboat too far away to recognize. If he was the fellow who was watching us, Nancy, he’s gone.”
Joe promised to look out for the stranger in case he should return, then the young people thanked him for the tour of the zoo and went home. After a quick lunch, they set out in the skiff for Crocodile Island.
“Do you think that man was spying on us this morning?” Bess asked while they were gliding along in the water.
“Maybe he was a sneak thief who was trying to make off with something from the estate,” Danny suggested. “When he saw us, he ran.”
“It’s possible,” Nancy agreed. “But it’s more likely that Bess is right. He could have followed us from your house to see what we were doing.”
George looked behind them. “No one is following us now. Let’s stop worrying about him.”
The young people once again passed the stilts with cottages built on top of them, and it occurred to Nancy that they might pick up a clue to Crocodile Island from one of the inhabitants.
“After all, they live close to the place,” she said. “Danny, do you think we might stop and call on the owners?
“Why not?” he replied, and paused at each, cottage. He received no answer to his “Hello? Anybody home?” Finally he laughed. “There aren’t any boats tied up at the posts. Obviously no one is here.”
As they passed a group of posts with nothing on them, Bess shivered “Every time I think about a cottage being blown away in a hurricane, I worry about whether people were in it or not.”
“I never heard of any,” Danny said. “But did you know that crocodiles were blown here by hurricanes?”
The girls laughed and George said, “Don’t kid us!”
“I’m not kidding,” Danny replied. “The story comes from the Indians. They say that when the Seminoles arrived here many, many years ago, there were plenty of alligators, but no crocodiles. Then, after a terrific hurricane, crocodiles were seen along the shore of Key Biscayne.”
Nancy, curious, asked, “Where did the crocodiles come from?
“Supposedly from Cuba,” Danny answered. “But they might even have traveled all the way from Africa.”
“Oh, yes?” George said. “If I see that in a science book I’ll believe it, but not from hearsay.”
“Well, they got here somehow,” Danny defended himself. “And certainly no one brought them. You figure it out.”
He sent his boat past the houses on stilts. The Pirate had not gone far when he pointed out an uninhabited key. “That’s a good picnic spot,” he said. “Friends of mine and I sometimes come here.”
George asked if he could go closer. “I see a green bottle floating toward shore. Let’s pick it up!”
Bess saw a good chance to tease her cousin. She rarely got the opportunity. “Are you collecting old bottles?” she asked. “From here that doesn’t look very valuable.”