Chapter XIII. The Hurricane
 

How the wind howled, and how the rain beat down! Outside the window of Cora's room, the gutters were flush, and running over with seething water. In the street below there was a river, along which bedraggled pedestrians forded their way, envying the patient donkeys drawing the market venders' carts.

At times the wind rose to a fury that rattled the casements, and fairly shook the solid structure of the hotel. Then Cora, who, with Jack, had come up from the breakfast room, clung to her brother, and a look of fear came into her eyes. Nor were Jack's altogether calm.

"What a storm!" murmured the girl.

The door, leading into the next room, opened, and Bess came out.

"Oh, Cora!" she gasped, putting the last touches to her hair, which she had arranged in a new Spanish way she had seen, and then, tiring of it, had gone to her room to put it back in its accustomed form. "Isn't this just awful!"

"Terrible, I say!" came from Belle, who now entered from her apartment.

"It certainly does rain," agreed Jack. "Five minutes ago there wasn't a drop in the street, and now you could float your motor boat there, if you had it, Cora."

"And we may wish we had it, before we're through," chimed in the voice of Walter. They had made of Cora's room, which was the largest of the suite, a sort of gathering place.

"Why so, Wally?" demanded Jack.

"It looks as though we'd be flooded," was his answer.

"Oh, these storms are common down here" put in Bess. "I spoke to Inez about it, and she said the natives here were used to them."

"Such storms as this?" asked Cora, as a fiercer dash of rain, and a sudden blast of wind, seemed about to tear away the windows and let the fury of the elements into the room.

"Well, I suppose that's what she meant," said Bess. "But it is awful, isn't it? And mamma and papa, and your mother, Cora, out on that steamer."

"Oh, they'll be all right," declared Jack. "It's a big steamer, and the captain and crew must be used to the weather down here. They'll know what to do. Probably they ran for harbor when they saw the storm coining. They say skippers in the West Indies can tell when a storm's due hours ahead."

But that brought little comfort to the girls, and even Walter looked worried as the day wore on and the fury of the storm did not abate. Inez, as one who had lived in the region, was appealed to rather often to say whether this was not the worst she had ever seen.

"Oh, I have seen zem much worse," was her ready answer, "but zey did terrible damage. Terrible!"

And, on talking with some of the old residents of San Juan, and with the hotel people, Jack and Walter learned that the storm was a most unusual one.

It was of the nature of a hurricane, but it did not have the sudden sharpness and shortness of attack of those devastating storms. The real hurricane season, due to a change of climatic conditions, was supposed to have passed, and this storm was entirely unlooked for, and unexpected.

It did not blow steadily, as hurricanes did, but in fits and gusts, more disconcerting than a steady blow of more power. The rain, also, came in showers. Now there would not be a drop filling, and again there would be a deluge, blinding in its intensity.

For want of a better name the storm was called a hurricane, though many of the real characteristics were lacking. And, as the dreary day wore on, the motor girls, and the boys, too, felt themselves coming under the spell of fear--not so much for themselves, as for their loved ones aboard the Ramona, which was the name of the steamer on, which Mr. and Mrs. Robinson and Mrs. Kimball had sailed.

"Oh, if anything has happened to them!" sighed Cora.

"Can't we get some news?" asked Bess, faintly.

"Surely there are telegraph lines and cables," spoke Belle.

"There are," the hotel clerk informed them, "but there are so many small islands hereabouts, into the harbor of any one of which the ship may have put, that it would be impossible to say where it was. And not all the islands have means of communication. So I beg of you not to worry, Senoritas. Surely they are safe."

Yet even the clerk, sophisticated as he was, did not believe all he himself said. For the storm, as the girls learned afterward, was almost unprecedented in the West Indies.

There was nothing they could do save to wait until it was over--until it had blown itself out, and then to wait, perhaps longer and with an ever increasing anxiety, for some news of those who had sailed.

"Oh, if Senor Robinson should be lost!" half sobbed Inez, on the third day of the storm, when it showed no signs of abating. "If he should he lost, my father would be doomed forever to zat prison."

"Nonsense!" exclaimed Jack, for it was in talking to Jack and Walter that the Spanish girl gave utterance to these sentiments. "Don't go saying such things around Cora and Bess and Belle, or you'll give them the fidgets. There's no sign the steamer is lost just because it has run into a storm."

"I know, Senor Jack,"--for so she called him, "but zere is so much danger. And my father--he is languishing in prison."

"Yes, but we'll have him out. Mr. Robinson didn't take those papers with him; did he--those papers that contain the evidence?"

"No, I have them--he has only ze copies."

"Well, then you needn't worry. When this storm blows over, we'll all get busy on this rescue business!" and Jack spoke with a return of his old energy. He was becoming more like himself every day now, and even the stress and danger of the storm had no hampering effects on him.

"Oh, you Americans!" exclaimed Inez, with a pretty pathetic gesture. "You speak of such queer English--to rescue is no business--it demands intrigue--secrecy."

"Well, we'll make it our business," said Walter, grimly, "But, Inez, don't scare the other girls. We have troubles enough without that, you know, with Mr. Robinson away. Just make a bluff at feeling all right."

"A bluff, Senor--a bluff--a high hill--I am to make a high hill of feeling good?" and she looked puzzled.

"Translate, Jack," begged Walter, hopelessly, and Jack, nothing loath, took Inez off into a corner of the hotel parlor to explain.

But with all their assumed right-heartedness, the boys were finally genuinely alarmed. Indefinite reports came to the hotel of much danger and damage to shipping, and several large steamers were said to have gone on the reefs which abounded in that region of islands. No direct news came of the Ramona. In fact, she had not been sighted, or spoken to, since leaving San Juan.

"Oh, if anything has happened to her!" sighed Cora.

"There's just as much chance that nothing has happened, as that there has," declared Jack. "She might have gone into any one of a dozen harbors."

"I suppose so, but, somehow, I can't help worrying, Jack."

"I know, little girl," he said, sympathetically.

"But I oughtn't to trouble you," Cora went on.

"Are you really feeling any better, Jack?"

"Heaps; yes. Water and I are going out to have a look at the water to-day. We're tired of being cooped up here."

"Oh, I wish I could go!"

"Why not? Come along. It will do you girls good."

So it was arranged. The girls, including Inez, donned rubber coats, and, well wrapped up for it was chilling with the advent of rain, they set forth from the hotel.

They made a struggling way to the sea wall, and there looked out over a foaming waste of waters. In one place where a sunken reef of coral came close to the surface the waves beat and tore at it as though to wrench it up, and cast it ashore. There the sea boiled and seethed in fury.

"A ship wouldn't last long' out there," said Walter, quietly.

"I should say not," agreed Jack.

On the beach the waves pounded with sullen fury, making a roar that drowned the voices of the motor girls. Cora and her chums clung to one another as they leaned their bodies against the blast, and peered through the mist.

"Isn't it awful," said Cora, with a shudder.

"Yes--for--for those who have to be out in it," spoke Bess, and, though she mentioned no names, they all knew what she meant.