“Incredible!” Mrs. Cosgrove burst out. “Just think of the nerve of that young lady, pretending to be you!”
“I don’t like the whole thing,” Mr. Cosgrove added. “These people are obviously very clever and don’t shy away from anything underhanded.”
“We’ll be careful,” Nancy said.
When Danny and George had not returned two hours later, she began to worry.
“Did they have another encounter with The Whisper?” she wondered.
Mrs. Cosgrove realized that Nancy was concerned, and tried to cheer her up. “Look, Danny is a very reliable boatman,” she said. “They could have become stuck during low tide. Instead of sitting here and waiting, why don’t we all go to see a friend of mine? She has a little private zoo, which I’m sure you would enjoy.”
“That sounds great,” Nancy said. “But before we leave, do you mind if I phone the Coast Guard and ask if they’ve had a report of an accident?”
“Of course not,” Mrs. Cosgrove said. “Go ahead.”
Nancy learned that no trouble had been reported and felt better.
“I’ll stay here and wait for George and Danny,” Mr. Cosgrove said. “You enjoy yourselves.”
Mrs. Cosgrove drove her guests along the waterfront until they came to a large estate. She pulled in, stopped at the front door, and rang the bell. To her disappointment she was told by the woman who answered that her friend, Mrs. Easton, was away for the day, and so was the animal trainer.
“I’d like to show my visitors from the North your zoo,” Mrs. Cosgrove said. “Is it all right?”
“Yes, indeed,” the woman replied. “Go ahead. You’ll probably meet Eric, our gamekeeper. He’ll show you around.”
The man was not in sight. Mrs. Cosgrove, who had been to the estate many times, drove on. She told the girls a bit about the birds, turtles, and snakes that were in large covered cages.
“That flamingo is gorgeous!” Bess exclaimed, watching the long-legged creature with the pink feathers and dignified-looking head walk daintily across a fenced-in lawn. In the center was a pool.
Mrs. Cosgrove pointed out an enormous turtle and remarked, “They live to a very old age. I’ve heard of some that had dates carved on their backs showing they were a hundred and twenty-five years old!”
In another wire-mesh enclosure were a variety of snakes.
“I’m not going to look at them!” Bess declared. “They give me the creeps.”
Mrs. Cosgrove laughed. “If you lived in Florida, you’d have to get used to snakes. We have all kinds and sizes. Some are beautiful, and all are very graceful.”
“I’ll take your word for it,” Bess said and was glad when Mrs. Cosgrove passed the snake pen and stopped the car some distance away. She and the girls got out and walked to a spot directly on the bay. Here there was a large enclosure, part of it extending into the bay.
“A pair of crocodiles,” Mrs. Cosgrove said, resting her elbows on the cement fencing.
As the onlookers watched, one of the reptiles got up and walked into the water. At the same time Nancy spotted a canoe being paddled under the overhanging mangrove trees along the shore. In it were three boys. Without warning, one threw a large piece of coral rock at the reptile. Fortunately it missed.
The move annoyed the crocodile, however. He turned back to join his mate. The boys in the canoe paddled off quickly.
“I’m glad they’re gone,” Nancy said. “I’d hate to see the croc injured.”
Mrs. Cosgrove explained that the creature’s hide was so thick that it was almost impossible to hurt its back. “But if something hits a crocodile in the eyes, it’s very painful.”
Bess asked, “Do these crocs have names?”
Mrs. Cosgrove smiled. “Yes. They’re Lord and Lady Charming.”
Nancy and Bess laughed, and Bess remarked, “They don’t look very charming to me.”
As if he had heard her, the larger of the two crocodiles emitted a low growl, followed by a hiss. He opened his jaws wide.
Bess retreated in a hurry. “W-what’s the matter with him?”
Suddenly several small fish, sucked up through a pipe running into the enclosure from the salt water, were sprayed into the pen. The crocodile forgot it was angry. With lightning speed he ran down into the water and grabbed several fish with his great jaws, then closed them with a resounding crack.