Danny offered, nevertheless, to take them all in the skiff the following morning and try to land on the key. “It may be open,” he added cheerfully.
The seven young people set off early and headed directly to Crocodile Island. Nancy suggested that if visitors were allowed ashore, Ned, Burt, and Dave should go without the girls.
“No one there knows you, so you could look around without making the owners suspicious. Perhaps you can pick up some clues we’ve missed.”
Unfortunately the planned visit did not take place. When they reached the island, prominently displayed signs prohibited visitors. Furthermore, there was no activity around the place.
This lack of activity puzzled Nancy. “I can’t understand it,” she said. “I wonder if something happened.”
Danny shrugged. “If we can’t go ashore, we can’t find out. Tell you what. Suppose I take you boys to an uninhabited key so you can see exactly what one looks like. The girls haven’t seen the island either.” He smiled. “I can almost guarantee that you won’t find any mosquitoes.”
The girls laughed and then told the boys about the jungle attack.
Danny went on to say that the key ahead was reputed to have been a slave hideout, “I mean an Indian-slave hideout.”
Ned remarked, “We haven’t been here twenty-four hours and I’ve learned a lot I never knew before.”
George grinned. “Oh, hadn’t you heard? We three girls and Danny are walking encyclopedias! Just ask us anything you want to know about this place.”
“Okay,” said Burt. “How deep is the water in Biscayne Bay?”
George did not hesitate a second. “It runs from nothing to twenty feet.”
Burt was startled and turned to Danny. “Is she putting us on?”
“No, she’s not. George is telling the truth. At low tide some of the sand isn’t covered at all. The deep-water channels vary from twelve to thirty feet,” he explained.
“Wow!” Burt said. “I never would have guessed. That’s interesting.”
When they reached the key, Danny stayed in the skiff while the others went ashore. As they scrambled over the mangrove roots, the boys seemed to have trouble.
“This stuff is something!” Dave cried out. “I just turned my ankle.”
“You have to get used to it,” Bess told him. “And you’d better make sure you don’t turn your whole leg!”
The young people found it difficult to walk across the coral rock, mangrove, and spiny plants, which grew in profusion. About quarter of a mile from shore they spotted a tumble-down thatched-roof hut.
Ned remarked, “I thought Danny said this place was uninhabited.”
“I’m sure it is,” Nancy said. “No one could possibly live in that cabin.”
They all struggled up to the hut and stared. Its roof was sagging and the building, made of mangrove branches, was ready to fall apart.
“I’ve seen enough,” Dave announced. “Now I can be a walking encyclopedia myself on the subjects of mangrove trees and coral rocks.”
Bess was about to say something, but screamed instead, “Look out!”
“What’s the matter?” George asked her.
Bess continued to scream and pointed at the branches of trees over their heads. Large black snakes were falling from them in profusion!
Everyone ran, and the reptiles missed all of them except Ned. One slimy creature landed on his shoulders and instantly wound itself around the young man’s neck.
“Ugh!” he cried out, trying to pull the snake away.
Burt and Dave jumped to help him. Burt grabbed the snake just behind its head, while Dave closed his fingers around the body near the end of the tail.
Bess was still screaming, with the result that all the other snakes scurried off into the underbrush, apparently frightened.
Within seconds Burt and Dave yanked the reptile from Ned’s neck and shoulders. They flung it away, and with swift humping motions, the snake crawled out of sight.
“Thanks, fellows,” Ned said. “I’m glad that thing didn’t fasten its fangs in my throat!”
Bess’s continued screaming had brought Danny dashing through the bushes.
“What happened?” he asked.
George told him, and he said, “Don’t worry, Ned. Those snakes are harmless. They live in the water part of the time, but come ashore to hunt for food. I guess they climb the trees to sleep and dry off.”