Chapter X. The Blue Waters
 

"What is the matter, my dear girl?" asked Cora, when she had recovered from the little start Inez gave her. "Did that man do anything--or speak to you?" and she looked indignantly about for a ship's officer to whom to complain.

"No! No--not that!" cried the Spanish girl, quickly. "He did not speak--he did not even look!"

"Then why are you so alarmed?"

"It is because I know zat man--I know him when I am in New York before. He try to find out from me about my father," and a shivering, as if of fear, seemed to take possession of the timid girl.

"Do you mean he belonged to the political party that put your father in prison?"

"Zat is it. Oh, but zese politics! I know not what zey mean, but zey are trouble--trouble always. Now zat man he is here--he is looking for me, I am sure."

"Nonsense!" exclaimed Cora, determined, whether she believed it or, not, to make light of the matter, for Inez was certainly much alarmed.

"I don't believe he even knows you are on board," Jack's sister went on, "But we'll speak to Mr. Robinson about it. He'll know what to do. Do you think that man saw you?"

"I know not, Senorita Cora. But I am much afraid!" There was no doubt of that; the girl's eyes and every movement, showed her alarm.

"Come along!" Cora forced herself to say brightly. "We'll soon settle this matter. We'll find out who that man is, and--"

"Oh, no! No, Senorita. Do not trouble. It you should do zat, zis man would only make matters worse for my poor father. Let him alone!"

"And have you, and us, worrying all the time on this voyage? Indeed, I'll not."

This was not Cora's way. She never shrank from doing what she considered to be her duty. In this case, her duty lay in finding out whether or not there was a real, or fancied enemy, of Mr. Ralcanto's aboard.

The man who had caused this little flurry of excitement, had, by this time, gone down to his stateroom. Other belated passengers were hurrying aboard, the last consignment of freight was being brought to the dock, and preparations for leaving were multiplying.

"I might as well wait until I can see him, you can point him out to me again," said Cora, "and then I'll show him to Mr. Robinson. He can speak to the captain, and find out who the big man is."

"Very well, Senorita," assented Inez. "But I do not wish to give annoyance. I have already been such a burden--"

"Nonsense!" Cora cried. "We've undertaken this business of getting your father out of that political prison, and we're going to do it. I think we're going to start now."

There was little doubt about it. Bells were jingling, whistles were blowing and men were hoarsely shouting. Then the gang-plank was pulled to the dock, away from the steamer's side, just after a last belated passenger had run up it.

Mooring ropes were cast off, and then with a blast from her siren, that fairly made the decks tremble, the ship was slowly pushed out into the river to drop down the harbor, and so on her way to Porto Rico.

It was just before the pilot was about to leave, that Cora got a chance to carry out her intention of drawing the attention of Mr. Robinson to the mysterious man who had so seriously alarmed Inez.

The personal baggage of our travelers had been put away in the respective staterooms, and they were all up on deck watching the scenes about the harbor. Inez, who was standing near Mrs. Kimball and Cora, suddenly gave a start, and touching Jack's sister on the arm, whispered:

"There he is! And he is looking right at me!"

Cora turned quickly. She did behold the gaze of the fat man directed in rather scrutinizing fashion on the Spanish girl, and, as he saw that he was attracting attention, he quickly averted his eyes. In appearance he was a Cuban or Spaniard, well dressed and prosperous looking, but not of prepossessing appearance.

At that moment Mr. Robinson strolled past, talking to the captain whom he knew, for the twins' father had long been engaged in a branch of the coffee importing business, and had much to do with ships.

"Now is my chance," thought Cora. "I'll find out who that man is."

She whispered to Inez to keep the mysterious stranger in view, while she herself went to speak to Mr. Robinson and the captain. She had previously been introduced to the commander, and found him most agreeable.

Cora quickly explained to Mr. Robinson the little alarm Inez had experienced, and requested him to find out, from the captain, who the man was.

"That man?" queried the commander, in answer to Mr. Robinson's question. "Why, he is an old traveler with me. He goes up and down to Porto Rico quite often. He's a coffee merchant, Miguel Ramo by name, and very wealthy, I believe. Do you wish to meet him?"

"Oh, no!" said Cora hastily, and with a meaning look at Mr. Robinson, "I--I just wanted to know who he was."

"He has a very interesting personality," went on the captain. "He has been through a number of revolutions in his own native country, of Venezuela, and, I believe, has mixed up, more or less, with politics in Porto Rico. He tells some queer stories."

"Perhaps I shall be glad to make his acquaintance, later," murmured Mr. Robinson, as Cora, with a meaning look, slipped away. She had found out part of what she wanted to know.

While Mr. Robinson and the captain continued their stroll along deck, Cora slipped to where Inez was waiting.

"Do you know a Senor Miguel Ramo?" asked Jack's sister.

Inez puckered her brow in thought.

"No," she said slowly, "I do not know ze name, but I am sure zat man was on Sea Horse Island when my father was taken to prison. I am fearful of him."

"Well, you needn't be," declared Cora, lightly. "Remember you're with us, and under the protection of Mr. Robinson. Besides, that man seems well known to Captain Watson, and, even if he is a revolutionist, he may not be a bad one."

Inez shook her head. The sad experiences through which she had passed had not tended to make her brave and self-reliant, as was Cora. But, even at that, Inez could not but feel the helpful influence of the motor girls, and already, from their influence, she, had gained much.

Out of seeming confusion and chaos came order and discipline, and soon matters were running smoothly aboard the vessel. Jack and Walter came up on-deck, with Bess and Belle, and the young people, including Inez, who was regarded more as a companion than as a maid, formed one of the group that watched the shores and ships slipping past, as they went through the Narrows, and out into the bay.

Cora told of the little alarm Inez had experienced, and Walter was at once anxious to establish a sort of espionage over the suspect. Jack agreed with him, and doubtless they would have constituted themselves a committee of two to "dog" the footsteps of the fat man, had not Cora firmly interfered.

"Mr. Robinson is looking after him," said Jack's sister, "and he'll do all that is necessary. Besides, I don't believe that man is the one Inez thinks he is. She isn't quite so sure as she was; are you?"

"No, Senorita. And yet--I know not why but I am of a fear about him."

"Don't you worry--I'll look out for you!" said Jack, taking her hand, which Inez, with a pretty blush, hastily snatched away from him.

The pilot was "dropped," and then began the real voyage of about fifteen hundred miles to San Juan. It was destined to be uneventful, so we shall not concern ourselves with it, except to say that though Mr. Robinson kept a close watch on Senor Ramo, he could detect nothing that could connect him with the imprisonment of the father of Inez. If the coffee merchant were in any way responsible, he betrayed no sign of it, not even when Mr. Robinson, in conversation with him, introduced the name of Senor Ralcanto. So, unless the fat man was an excellent actor, it was decided Inez had been mistaken.

She herself, however, would not admit this, and continued to believe the man an enemy of her family. She avoided meeting him, and when she saw him on deck, she went back to her stateroom.

The weather had been cold, sharp and rather dreary on leaving New York, and warm clothing and coats were in demand. But in a day or so the balmy winds of the south began to make themselves felt, and the travelers were glad to don lighter clothing.

Mr. Robinson had been to Cuba, though not to Porto Rico, but the islands, are much the same, and his knowledge of one sufficed for the other. Inez, too, was of service to the girls and the two ladies in telling them what to wear.

Mr. Robinson and the boys were comfortable in suits of thin Scotch tweed, once the southern limits were reached, and later they changed to linen of the kind they used during their stay. Mrs. Robinson, Mrs. Kimball, and the girls varied from brown silks to linens, and found them perfectly well suited to the climate.

The days slipped by. The sun became warmer and warmer, and then, one morning, as the party came on, deck after breakfast, Cora, going forward, called out:

"Oh, see how blue the water is!"

"Isn't it!" agreed Bess.

"How beautiful!" murmured Belle.

"Now we are coming to my country," said Inez, softly. "Off there is Porto Rico, and beyond--beyond is Sea Horse Island--and my father!"

There were traces of tears in her eyes. Cora softly slipped her hand into that of the pretty refugee.