“Possibly not,” George retorted, “but it’s corked. Maybe there’s something valuable inside.”
When Danny reached the spot, George got down from her chair, leaned over the gunwale, and grabbed the bottle out of the water. It was dark green and had no markings. She tried to uncork it, but at first the stopper would not budge.
“I guess we’ll have to take the bottle home and work on it with a corkscrew,” Bess said.
“Maybe not,” George replied. She wiggled the cork from left to right, being careful not to break it. The cork loosened little by little. With one final yank, George pulled it out
She turned the bottle upside down. Nothing fell out. Then she held it up to her nose.
“What does it smell like?” Bess asked. “Perfume?”
“Nothing,” George said, disappointed.
“You might as well throw it back into the water,” Danny advised.
“I guess you’re right,” George said. “The whole thing was—wait a minute!” She had given the bottle a hard shake and looked into it. “I see something inside!” she said, excited. “It might be a note!”
Everyone watched breathlessly as George held the bottle upside down and continued to shake it. Finally a rolled paper appeared in the long, thin neck. She reached in with one finger and gently eased the piece out.
“What is it?” Nancy asked.
George carefully unrolled the yellowed, crinkled paper. “It’s a message!” she cried out. “Dated twenty years ago!”
“What does it say?” Danny asked impatiently.
“Captain Wayne,” George read, “USS Venerable sank in hurricane off Argentina. Twelve took to life boat. God’s blessings.”
There was complete silence for several seconds, then Nancy asked to see the paper.
“I believe it’s authentic,” she said after examining it carefully. “The paper is well preserved and the cork was in tight. And down in the corner is a date. This was written twenty years ago!”
“Why don’t we take the whole thing to the Naval Station at Key West?” Danny suggested. “They have all kinds of records there of old ships that went down in hurricanes.”
“Good idea,” George said. She was about to roll the note and put it back in the bottle, when Bess stopped her.
“Don’t do that,” her cousin advised. “It was hard enough to get it out the first time. Shoving it back in the bottle won’t make it any more authentic, you know.”
George laughed and slipped the message in her pocket, then replaced the cork in the bottle. “My dear cousin, you’re right for a change.”
“I’m right more often than you want to admit,” Bess said haughtily.
Danny grinned and started the Pirate’s engine. Soon they approached Crocodile Island. The girls used the binoculars to search for the periscope in the deep, green channel, but did not see it. They circled the island from a distance and noticed a sign at the landing platform: no visitors today.
“They’re keeping everyone out,” Danny said. “No activity at all. I wonder for how long.”
Nancy shrugged. “Let’s just keep going around the island. Maybe we’ll see something sooner or later.”
They had almost completed the second circle when they heard an agonizing cry from somewhere on the island!
The Runaway’s Clues
Bess turned pale. “Wh-what was that?”
Before anyone could guess, there were more bloodcurdling screams from the island.
“Maybe a crocodile got one of the workers!” George cried out in alarm.
Just then a young bearded man raced from behind the mangrove trees into the water. He splashed through the shallow area, and when he reached the green channel began to swim.
Seeing the nearby boat, he cried out, “Save me! Save me!”
Danny guided the skiff alongside the frantic swimmer, and the girls pulled him aboard. His eyes were bulging with terror, and his legs were bleeding profusely.
Danny quickly got a first-aid kit from a locker and handed it to the girls. They carefully washed the stranger’s wounds and applied a soothing salve.
“What happened to you?” Nancy asked him.
“Just—just don’t take me back to the island, please!” the young man pleaded.
“Of course not. Did a crocodile bite you?”
“No, no! I was beaten with one of the sharp hooked poles they use on the reptiles.”