Chapter XVI. Senor Ramo Missing
 

Jack's eyes glowed with the brightness of renewed health, and determination, as he looked at his sister, at Bess and Belle, and at Walter. It was like old times, when the motor girls had proposed some novel or daring plan, and the boys had fallen in with it. This time it had been Jack's privilege to make the suggestion, and the others were only too ready to agree.

"Oh, Jack, do you think we can do it?" asked Cora.

"Of course we can!" her brother cried, with a growing, instead of lessening, enthusiasm. "We'll just have to do something, and I can't think of anything better to do--can you? than going off in search of the folks."

"We simply must find them--if they're alive," spoke Bess, rather solemnly.

"We'll find them--alive!" predicted Walter, joining his cheerful efforts to those of his college chum.

"Oh, you Americans--you are so wonderful, so amazing!" whispered Inez. "I am so glad I am wiz you," and she divided her affectionate looks impartially between Jack and his sister.

"What do you think of it, Captain?" asked Walter of the skipper of the steamship. "Is it possible to go about down among these islands in a big motor boat?"

"Yes, if the boat be large enough, and seaworthy."

"I'm thinking of the Tartar," said Jack. "I heard of her from the engineer of the boat we came out in just now."

"Oh, the Tartar. Yes, she is a very fine boat, and quite safe, except in a very bad storm."

"Oh!" gasped Bess.

"But you are not likely to have bad blows now," the captain went on, "especially after this one we've just passed through. It is the last of the hurricane season, I hope. In fact, this was most unusual. Yes, I should say it would be very safe to make a cruise in the Tartar. I know the craft well."

"And what are the chances of success?" asked Walter in a low voice of the commander, as Jack, with his sister and the Robinson twins withdrew a little apart to discuss the important question of the coming cruise.

Captain Ponchero shrugged his shoulders in truly foreign fashion.

"One cannot tell, Senor," he said in a low voice. "Certainly it is a dubious tale the sailors told--a tale of mutiny and shipwreck. But the sea is a strange place. Many unforeseen things happen on it and in it. I have seen shipwrecked ones come back from almost certain death, and again--"

He hesitated.

"Well?" asked Walter, a bit impatiently. "Might as well hear the worst with the best."

"And again," resumed the captain, "I have seen what would appear to be the safest voyage result in terrible tragedy. So one who knows much of the sea, hesitates to speak with certainty about it. I should say, Senor, that the chance was worth taking."

"Then we may find some of them alive?"

"You may, and again--you may not. But it is worth trying. If you will come below with me, I will give you the exact longitude and latitude where we picked up the two sailors in the open boat. Then you can put for there, and make it the starting point of your search."

"Good idea," commented Walter.

By this time Jack and the others had finished their little discussion, and were eager to further question the captain concerning all the details he could give about the foundering of the Ramona. But there was little else that could be told.

The sailors had given all the information they possessed. They repeated again how the ship had suddenly run into a storm, and how the refusal of the captain to put into a port, hard to navigate in a storm, brought on the mutiny.

"But did they see any of our folks--either Mr. and Mrs. Robinson, or Mrs. Kimball?" asked Jack, while his sister and the twins hung breathless on the answer.

The sailors had not especially noticed any passengers. They had been in hard enough straits themselves, not having joined the mutineers.

"But they are certain the ship foundered? asked Cora.

"There seems to be little doubt of it, Senorita," said the captain. "It was a fearful storm. We had three boats carried away, as well as part of our port rail."

The weather was calm enough now, save for a heavy ground swell. The waters were marvelously blue, and overhead was the blue sky. Seen against the background of the wonderfully tinted hills of palms, the city of San Juan presented a most beautiful picture.

"Well, let's get busy," suggested Jack, and it was only by keeping thus occupied, mentally and physically, that he and his sister, as well as the twins, were enabled not to succumb to the grief that racked them. Belle, rather more nervous and temperamental than her sister, did give way to a little hysterical crying spell, as they were on their way back to the marina from the steamer, but this was due merely to a reaction.

"Don't, dear," said Cora, softly. "We'll find them, never fear!"

She put her arms about her chum, and Inez slipped a slim brown hand into one of Belles. Then the wave of emotion passed, and the girl was herself again.

"Are you going out for a long cruise?" asked Walter, "or shall you come back to San Juan from time to time? I ask, because I want to send word to my folks not to worry, if they don't hear from me very often."

"I think we'll cruise as long as we can," said Cora, who had assumed as much of the burden of the search as had her brother. "If the Tartar is large enough to allow us to take a big enough supply--of provisions and stores, we'll cruise until we--well, until we find out for certain what has happened."

Her voice faltered a little.

"Oh, the Tartar's big enough, Senorita," said the engineer of the motor boat in which they were making their way to shore. "You could go for a long cruise in her."

"Then we'll plan that," declared Jack. "Notify your folks accordingly, Wally."

"I shall. But you'll have to have help along, if she's as big as all that, won't you?"

"I suppose so," agreed Jack. "I'm not altogether up to the mark, if it comes to tinkering with a big, balky motor."

"I'd like to go as engineer," said the man at the wheel. "I've often run her, and I know her ways. If you were to ask the owner, Senor Hendos, he'd let me go."

The young people had taken a liking to Joe Alcandor, the obliging young engineer of the motor boat they had engaged to go out to the steamer, and Jack made up his mind, since he had to have help aboard the Tartar, to get this individual.

"This is a strange ending to our happy holiday," said Cora, with a sigh, as they left the boat and walked up the steps at the water's edge of the marina. The outing, up to now, had been a most happy one, once Jack's improvement in health was noticed.

"It hasn't ended yet," said Jack, significantly. "There's more ahead of us than behind us."

"I hope more happiness," said Cora, softly.

"Of course," whispered Jack.

They told Joe they would see Senor Hendos, and arrange with him for chartering the Tartar. Then, in two hacks, they made their way back to the hotel. All of them were anxious to get started on the cruise that might mean so much. "Do you really mean you'll take me wiz you?" asked Inez, of Cora, as they entered the hotel.

"Of course, my dear! I wouldn't think of leaving you," was the warm answer. "And we need you with us. Besides, you heard what Jack said about your father."

"Oh, will he try to rescue him?"

"I'm sure he will, if it's at all possible."

Something of the news concerning the young Americans was soon current in the hotel, and Cora and her friends were favored with many strange glances, as they walked through the foyer.

"We must thank Senor Ramo for his kindness in giving us the note to the captain,"' said Cora, ever thoughtful of the nice little courtesies of life.

"Indeed we must," agreed Belle, who had quite recovered her composure, and, save for a suspicious redness of the eyes, showed little of the grief at her heart.

Indeed, they were all rather stunned by the suddenness of the news, and only for the fact that under it lay a great hope, they would not have been able to hear up as well as they did.

The blow was a terrible one--to think that their loved ones were lost in a shipwreck! But there was that merciful hope--that eternal hope, ever springing up to take away the bitterness of death or despair.

There was, too, the necessity of work--hard work, if they were to go off on an unknown and uncertain cruise. And work is, perhaps, even better than hope, to mitigate grief.

So, though the sorrow would have been a terrible one, and almost unbearable, were it not for the ray of light and hope, they were able to hold themselves well together--these young Americans in a strange land.

"Jack, perhaps you had better go and thank Senor Ramo at once," suggested Cora. "He may be able to give you some good advice, too, about fitting up the Tartar for the cruise. He seems to know a great deal about these islands."

"I'll see him at once," agreed her brother. "Just send up my card to him, please," he requested the hotel clerk.

"To whom, Senor?"

"To Mr. Ramo."

"But he is not here--he is gone!"

"Gone?" Jack looked at the clerk blankly.

"Yes. He left, Senor, soon after you went away. He said business called him."

"That is strange," murmured Jack.

Inez, who had heard what was said, looked curiously at Cora, and then exclaimed:

"Ze papairs--for my father's release!"

A look of alarm showed in her face, as she hurried toward the stairway that led to her room.