Chapter XXV. News of the "Ramona"
 

Over the slowly heaving swell of the blue waters the swift revenue cutter came on. Those aboard the Tartar watched her with eager eyes. Did she have some news for them? This was the question in the mind of the motor girls.

"Oh, perhaps they have mother aboard!" breathed Cora, her hopes running thus high.

"And they might have our mother and father!" added Bess, taking bold heart as she heard Cora speak.

Inez said nothing. It was too much for her to dare to think that her father might be released from his political prison. She could only wait and hope.

"Some speed to her," observed Jack, admiringly, as he watched the white foam piled up in front of the bow of the oncoming craft.

"But she's not very big," spoke Walter.

"She's built for speed," remarked Engineer Joe. "She doesn't usually come out this far to sea; just hangs around the harbors, and tries to catch small smugglers. She couldn't stand much of a blow, and it's my opinion we're going to get one."

"Oh, I hope not soon!" exclaimed Cora, with a little nervous glance up at the sky.

"Well, within a day or so," went on Joe. "It's making up for a storm all right, and I guess that cutter is trying to get her job done-- whatever it is--and scoot back into harbor."

"But why should she want to speak to us?" asked Bess. "Of course it's interesting, and all that--almost like a story, in fact--but what does she want?"

"Tell you better when she gets here," said Walter with a laugh. "Perhaps there are some ladies aboard, and they want to learn the latest styles from the United States-seeing how recently you girls came from there."

"Silly!" murmured Belle, but it was noticed that she glanced at her brown linen dress, relieved with little touches of flame-colored velvet here and there--in which costume she made a most attractive picture. At least, Walter thought so.

"Perhaps zey are in search of him," suggested Inez, pointing to Sailor Ben, who was lying on a coil of rope in the bow.

"That's right!" exclaimed Jack, with a look of admiration at the Spanish girl. "They may have heard a story of his being on the island, and come out to rescue him. They could tell we came from that direction."

"It's possible," admitted Walter.

Whoever was in charge of the revenue cutter, seeing that their signals to speak the Tartar had been observed and answered, cut down the speed somewhat, so that the government vessel came on more slowly. In a short time, however, she was near enough for a hail, through a megaphone, to be heard.

"What boat is that?" was the demand.

"The Tartar, from San Juan," was Jack's reply.

"Where bound?"

"It's too long a story to yell this way," was Jack's answer. "Shall we come aboard?"

"No, I'll send a boat," came back. Presently a small boat, containing three men, was lowered, for the sea was very smooth, and in a little while a trim-looking lieutenant was at the accommodation ladder of the Tartar.

"Why, it's just like a play!" murmured Bess, as she saw the sword at the officer's side. "I wonder if he's going to put us all under arrest?"

"Would you mind?" asked Cora.

"I don't know. He has nice eyes, hasn't he?"

"Hopeless!" sighed. Cora, with a little smile at her chum.

A quick glance on the part of the lieutenant seemed to give him an idea of the nature of the cruise of the Tartar.

"Oh! a pleasure party!" he exclaimed. "I am sorry we had to stop you, but--"

"That's all right," said Cora, for she thought it would be less embarrassing if one of the feminine members gave some assurance. "It doesn't happen to be a pleasure trip."

"No? You astonish me, really! I should say--"

His eyes caught sight of the ragged and un-kempt figure of the marooned sailor.

"Has there been a wreck? Did you save some one?" the lieutenant asked, quickly. His practiced eye told him at once that some tragedy had occurred.

"Something like that--yes," Cora assented. "But the rescue is not over yet. My brother will tell you all about it," and she nodded to Jack. The lieutenant, with a courteous lifting of his cap, turned to face Walter's chum.

"We rescued him from a little island back there," Jack said. "We thought you might be on the same errand."

"No," the officer said, "though we would have gone if we had heard of it. But we are after bigger game. Are you going back to St. Kitts?"

"Yes, and then on again. We're trying to find the Ramona, or some--"

"The Ramona!" cried the lieutenant, and there was wonder in his tones. "Do you, by any possible chance, mean the Ramona of the Royal Line?"

"That's the one," said Jack, something of the other's excitement 'communicating itself to him. "Why, do you know anything about her?"

"I only wish we knew more of her!" snapped the lieutenant, with a grim tightening of his lips, while the girls looked on in wonder at the strange scene. "We're after her, too," the officer continued. "She's in the hands of a mutinous crew, and she's been trying to do some smuggling. We've orders to take her if we can, but first we have to find her, and that's the errand we're on now. We stopped you to ask if you had had a sight of her. But why are you interested in finding her, if I may ask?"

"We're looking for my mother, who sailed on her," said Cora, quickly, "and for Mr. and Mrs. Perry Robinson, the parents of these girls," and she nodded toward the twins.

"Is it possible!" exclaimed the lieutenant. "This is indeed a coincidence."

"Have you sighted the Ramona?" asked Cora.

"No, Miss, and I wish we would--soon," spoke the lieutenant. "We're going to have a storm, if I'm any judge, and our cutter isn't any too sea-worthy. But it's all in the line of business," and he shrugged his shapely shoulders as though preparing for the worst. He would not shirk his duty.

"Well, I'm sorry we can't give you any information," Cora said. "We, too, are very anxious to find the steamer, for we are not even sure that our parents are aboard. There was a terrible storm, you know, and she may have foundered."

"No, she did not. We have good evidence of that," was the officer's answer. "She had a hard time in the hurricane, and suffered some damage, Miss, but she's sound and able to navigate. We heard that some of the crew, who would not join with the mutineers, were marooned--I am glad to get confirmation of that," and he nodded at Ben, whose story had been briefly told.

"But what of the passengers?" asked Bess, anxiously. "Oh, did you hear anything of father and mother?"

"Not personally, I am sorry to say," was the answer of the lieutenant as he touched his cap, and smiled at the eager girl.

"But did you hear anything?" asked, Cora, for somehow she fancied she detected a tone as though the officer would have been glad to answer no further.

"Well, Yes, Miss, I did," he was the somewhat reluctant reply. "The story goes that all the passengers are still aboard."

"Still on board!" echoed Jack. "Why, I thought they were also marooned."

"Evidently not," said the lieutenant. "Either the storm must have made them change their plans, or the mutineers were afraid of evidence being given against them by the passengers, for they kept them aboard, according to the latest reports we have had.

"After living through the hurricane, the Ramona was headed for a quiet harbor, where the smugglers have their headquarters, and there repairs were made. Since then the ship, under another name, has been engaged in running contraband goods. We were ordered to get after her, but, so far, we have had our trouble for our pains. We hoped you might have sighted her."

"We're going to keep on trying," said Cora. "We are going back to St. Kitts, to land him," and she nodded at the sailor they had rescued.

"Well, then we may see you again," the lieutenant said, with a bow, that took in the motor girls impartially. He shot a quick glance at Inez, but Cora did not think it wise to speak of the Spanish girl, nor mention her father.

After some further talk, in the course of which the lieutenant said the mutineers and smugglers would be harshly dealt with when caught, he returned to the cutter, which was soon under way again. She sheered off on a new tack, while the Tartar resumed her journey to St. Kitts.

"Wasn't that remarkable?" asked Bess.

"Very strange," agreed Cora.

"And it gave us news," spoke Belle. "We know now that your mother, Cora, and that our folks are all right."

"All right?" cried Jack, questioningly.

"Well, I mean they are safe on board, and not suffering on some little island," went on Belle.

"They might better off on some island," murmured Jack, but only Walter heard him, and he cautioned his chum quickly.

"Don't let the girls hear you say that," he whispered. "I agree with you that they might be better off on an island, than on the steamer, with the mutineers and smugglers. But if the girls hear that, they'll have all kinds of fits. Keep still about it."

"Oh, I intend to. But this complicates matters doesn't it? We'll have to find a constantly moving steamer, instead of a stationary island."

"It's about six of one and a half dozen of the other," spoke Walter. "But we have help in our search now," and he nodded toward the cutter, only the smoke of which could now be seen.

St. Kitts was reached without further incident, and Sailor Ben was taken ashore, Cora insisting on leaving him a sufficient sum of money to insure his care until he could find another berth. Then the pursuit of the Ramona was again taken up.

For two days the Tartar cruised about on her strange quest, and when the third evening came, with the sun setting behind a bank of slate-colored clouds, Cora said to Jack:

"It looks like a storm."

"You're right, Sis," he agreed. And, I even as he spoke, there came a strange moaning of the wind, which sprang up suddenly, whipping feathers of foam from the crests of the oily waves.

At the same moment, Joe, who had come up from the motor room for a breath of fresh air, cried out:

"Sail ho!"