Chapter XIV. News of Shipwreck
 

Cora, with an impatient, nervous gesture, laid aside the piece of lace upon which she was engaged. The long, breathing sigh which followed her rising from the chair, was audible across the room.

"What's the matter?" asked Bess, who, seated near a window, where the light was best, was industriously engaged in mending a hole in one of her silk stockings. She held it off at arm's length, on her spread-out hand, as if to judge whether the repair would show when the article was worn.

"I just can't do another stitch!" Cora said. "It makes me so--nervous."

"It's beautiful lace--a lovely pattern," spoke Belle, as she picked it up from the table. "I don't see how Inez carries them all in her head," for Cora was working out a model set for her by the Spanish girl.

"Nor I," said did Bess, "It's perfectly wonderful."

She glanced at Cora, who had gone to stand by another window to watch for signs of clearing weather, that, of late, had come with more certain promise.

"There! I think that will do!" announced Bess, as she cut off the silk thread. "I wonder if we shall ever get to the point where we can go without stockings, as the Spanish ladies do here."

"Do they?" asked Cora, absently. "I hadn't noticed."

"They do indeed, my dear," answered her chum. "I read about it, but I didn't believe it until Inez took us to call on Senora Malachita the other day--Belle and I--you didn't come, you know."

"I remember."

"Well, my dear, positively she didn't have any stockings on--only slippers, and she received us that way. Belle and I had all we could do not to laugh, and I wondered if she could be so poor that she couldn't afford them, though her, house, was beautiful, and the plaza, with its fountain and flowers, a perfect dream.

"But Inez told me that often even the well-to-do Spanish ladies here don't wear stockings, unless they go to church or to a dance. Even then they don't put them on, sometimes, until just before they go into the church. We saw one, riding in on a donkey. She stopped just outside the church, and put on her stockings as calmly as though they were gloves."

"Fancy!" cried Cora.

"Then you aren't going to follow that fashion?" asked Belle.

"No, indeed!" exclaimed the plump Bess, as she carefully inspected the other stocking for a possible worn place. She did not find it, and sighed in content.

"Aren't you going to finish that lace, Cora?" asked Belle.

"Not now, at any rate. I just can't sit here and--wait! I want to be doing something."

"But there's nothing to do, dear," objected Belle. "We can't do anything but wait for news of them. And no news is always good news, you know."

"Just because it has to be!" retorted Cora.

"But, girls, positively, I believe the weather is clearing! Yes, there's a blue patch of sky. Oh, if this storm should be over!"

Her two chums came and stood by her at the casement. Off to the west the dark and sullen sky did seem to be clearing. The rain had ceased some time ago, but the wind was still blowing half a gale, and the boys, who had come back from the docks a short while before, reported that the sea was still very high, and that no ships had ventured to leave the harbor. Then Jack and Walter went out again, saying they were going to the marina, the water plaza.

"Oh, but it is going to clear!" cried Cora, in delight, an hour or so later. "Now we shall hear some news of them!"

"Won't it be lovely!" exclaimed Bess. "Oh, I have been so worried!"

"So have I," admitted her sister. "But of course they are safe!"

"Of course," echoed Cora, and yet there was a vague fear within her--a fear that, somehow or other, in spite of her effort for self-control, communicated itself to her voice.

"Let's go out,"' suggested Belle. "I'm tired of being cooped up here."

"Where are the boys?" asked Cora. "Really we oughtn't to go out so much without them. We'll become talked about!"

"Never!" laughed Bess. "We are Americans, and everything is possible to us."

The others laughed. Before coming to Porto Rico, they had read books about the island, in which stress was laid on Spanish customs, especially about ladies going about without a male member of their family, or some one to serve as a duenna. But our friends were too sensible to be hampered by that custom, save at night.

"The boys are probably off enjoying themselves," said Cora. "Jack is so much better. It has done him a world of good down here. We may meet them. Come on, let's go out. Oh, there's the sun!"

It was shining for the first time since the storm began, and the girls hastened to take advantage of it.

"Where's Inez?" asked Belle.

"Lying down, she had a little headache," explained Bess. "We won't disturb her, and we won't be gone long."

There was a great outpouring of the inhabitants, all anxious to take advantage of the clearing of the, storm, and the streets were soon crowded. The girls went down to the sea wall, at a point where Jack and Walter had made a habit of taking observations from time to time, and there they found the chums.

"Welcome to our city!" laughed Walter, as he greeted the girls. "Won't you come and have something cool to drink? It's going to be insufferably hot!"

And so it promised after the storm, for the sun, coming out with almost tropical warmth, after all the moisture, was fairly sizzling now.

"It sounds nice," spoke Cora. "Oh, Jack, do you think we can get any news of the steamer soon?"

"I think so, Sis. Let's go round by the Morro, and see what the semaphore says."

At the ancient Spanish fort flags were displayed to signal the expected arrival of steamers.

The little party found a refreshment booth and enjoyed the iced and flavored cocoanut milk, which made a most delightful beverage. Then, going on to the fort, they saw, fluttering in the breeze that had succeeded the hurricane, the flags that told of the approach of a steamer.

"I--I hope it brings news," said Cora, softly.

"Good news," supplemented Belie.

"Of course," added her sister.

They strolled back to the marina, the business quarter of the town, fronting directly on the water. There, in the activities of the owners of several motor launches, was read the further news of the approach of the first steamer since the storm. The lighters were getting ready to go out to bring ashore the passengers and freight.

As it would probably be some time before the ship came to anchor out in the harbor, the boys and girls went back to the hotel, for it was approaching the dinner hour.

In spite of their anxiety to receive any possible news of the Ramona, which the incoming steamer might bring, the girls went to their rooms for a siesta after the meal--a habit that had really been forced on them, not only by the customs, but by the climate of the place. It was actually too warm to go about in the middle of the day, and especially now, since the sun had come out exceedingly hot after the storm. Jack and Walter, however, declared that they were going down to the marina to get the earliest possible news.

As it chanced, the girls remaining at the hotel were the first to hear that which made so great a difference to them.

Cora, Bess and Belle, with Inez, whose head had stopped aching, came down about four o'clock, dressed for a stroll. There was to be a band concert in one of the public park--the first in several days.

As they went up to the desk to leave their keys, they saw standing talking to the clerk a very stout man, at the sight of whom Inez drew back behind Cora.

"It is him--him again," she whispered.

"Who?"

"Zat man--Senor Ramo--I do not like zat he should see me."

"Oh, you mustn't be so timid," declared Jack's sister. "He won't harm you."

"No, but my father--"

"I think you are mistaken, Inez!" went on Cora. "At any rate, he has seen us--he remembers us as from having come out on the same steamer with us," for Senor Ramo was now bowing, and is smile spread itself over his oily and expansive countenance.

"Ah, Senorita Kembull!" he mispronounced. "I am charmed to see you again. Also the Senoritas Sparrow--er--I am so forget--I know it is some kind of one of your charming birds--ah!--Robinson--a thousand pardons! I am charmed!" and he bowed low to the twins.

Then his eyes sought the face of Inez, but he showed no recognition, though the significant pause indicated that he expected also to address her. Clearly, if he had seen her on the steamer coming from New York, he did not remember her. There was a questioning look in his eyes.

Inez pinched Cora's arm, and murmured something in her ear. Cora understood at once. Inez did not wish to meet this man, for reasons of her own. He might, or might not, be of the political party opposed to her father, and he might, or might not, have had a hand in placing Senor Ralcanto in prison. Of this Cora could only guess, but there was no mistaking the fear of Inez.

Cora thought of the easiest way out of it. This was to allow Inez to assume the character she had been given--that of a maid.

"Inez, I think I left my fan in my room--will you please get it for me?" requested Cora, at the same time giving the Spanish girl a meaning look.

"Yes, Senorita," was the low-voiced answer, as Inez glided from the foyer.

Senor Ramo seemed to understand. He turned, once more, with a smile to Cora.

"And when may I have the pleasure of paying my respects to your honored mother?" he asked, "and to Senora--er--Robinson, and your father?" he inquired of the twins. "I have but just arrived, after a most stormy passage, from Barbados. Truly I thought we were lost, but we managed to weather the hurricane."

"And we are hoping our folks did, too," said Cora. "We have heard nothing of them since they sailed on the Ramona, nearly a week ago. Did your steamer hear of that vessel, Senor Ramo?" she asked, eagerly.

"The Ramona did you say?" he inquired, and there was that in his manner which sent a cold chill of fear to the hearts of the motor girls.

"Yes," answered Cora, huskily. "Oh, has anything happened? Have you heard any news? Tell me! Oh!" and she clutched at her wildly beating heart.

"The Ramona--a thousand pardons that I am the bearer of ill-tidings --the Ramona was shipwrecked!" said Senor Ramo. "We picked up some of the sailors from it! Ah, deeply do I regret to have to tell you such news!"