Just then the other girls in the room noticed that the crocodile had escaped from its container. As Nancy dashed toward it, George froze and Bess screamed in fear!
Mrs. Hannah Gruen, the Drews’ housekeeper, heard the commotion and rushed in from the kitchen. By now the baby crocodile lay at the edge of the table, making low hissing sounds.
Hannah backed away in alarm, even though she usually had plenty of courage when confronted with a crisis. A middle-aged woman, she had brought Nancy up after Mrs. Drew’s death, when Nancy was three years old. Since then kindly Mrs. Gruen had fostered the girl’s natural instinct to face danger without flinching.
“Wh—what on earth is going on here?” Hannah asked.
Before anyone could answer, Nancy’s bullterrier Togo slipped into the room behind the housekeeper. As soon as he spied the little reptile, he began to bark wildly. He jumped up in the air, trying to reach the crocodile with his paws.
“Don’t hurt it!” Nancy exclaimed. She grabbed Togo by his collar and tried to keep him from nipping the little creature.
“I’ll take Togo,” Hannah offered.
Nancy walked up to the table and turned the shoe carton on its end. Then, with the lid, she gently pushed the crocodile back toward it. Apparently the dog’s barking and yapping had frightened it, and the little reptile willingly crawled into the box.
“Thank goodness!” Hannah Gruen said with a sigh of relief as Nancy put the lid back on.
“I’m glad that’s over!” Bess added. “If one little baby can scare us like that, what’ll we do when we get to a farm full of great big crocs?”
Mrs. Gruen laughed. “No doubt the reptiles are kept in pits and can’t get out,” she said. “Don’t worry, Bess.”
Togo continued to bark and jump, so Nancy led him outside and put him in his run. The dog had helped her many times in her detective work, which had started with The Secret of the Old Clock. Recently she had unraveled The Strange Message in the Parchment.
Meanwhile, Hannah had found a sturdy cord to secure the shoe box. When Nancy returned to the living room, she suggested that tie three girls go downtown and deliver the baby crocodile to its owner.
“I second the motion,” Bess said. “The sooner we get this creature out of here, the better I’ll like it!”
When they reached the store, Bess stayed in the car, while Nancy and George went inside the shop. The owner, Noly Reareck, greeted the girls with a look of relief.
“You have no idea what a load you’ve taken off my mind,” he said. “You see, I have a license to keep Crocky as a pet and have agreed to keep it in suitable surroundings and never to abuse it, kill it, or sell its hide.”
Mr. Reareck explained that it was unfortunate the little reptile had been sold to George. “I had to go to the post office,” he said, “and asked a neighborhood boy to watch the shop for a few minutes. He decided to play a joke on me. Instead of selling you a rubber crocodile that can be made to wiggle and open its mouth, he gave you my pet. It’s a good thing you told him it was for Carson Drew, or I wouldn’t have been able to trace it. I’m mighty relieved that Crocky didn’t bite anyone.”
Bess, who was waiting in the car, wondered why the girls did not come back and walked into the shop. George explained about the switching of the crocodiles, then Nancy asked Mr. Reareck where the young reptile had come from.
“Crocodile Island in Florida,” he said.
The girls looked at one another in amazement
“Crocodile Island?” Bess blurted out. “Why, that’s where—”
She stopped suddenly because George stepped on her toes. Nancy was relieved. If Mr. Reareck had any connection with Crocodile Island, she did not want him to know about the girls’ mission.
The three thanked the shop owner and left Nancy dropped Bess and George off at their homes, then returned to her own house. With Hannah Gruen looking on and offering advice from time to time, Nancy chose a wardrobe to take on the trip. Among her summer clothes were two bathing suits, a terry-cloth beach robe, and a jump suit.