Chapter XXVII. Senor Ramo
 

Clinging to the life-lines that had been stretched along the deck, Jack made his way to a partly-sheltered spot near which the lieutenant stood.

"Where is she?" asked Jack, fairly shouting the words into the officer's ear, for the noise of the storm was such as to make this necessary.

"Right ahead!" was the answer. "Look when we go up on the next crest."

One moment the Tartar was down in the hollow of the waves, and the next on the top of the swell, and it was only on the latter occasion that a glimpse ahead could be had.

"Now's your chance!" cried Lieutenant Walling to Jack. "Look!"

Eagerly Cora's brother peered through the mist, wiping the salty spray from his eyes. Just ahead, wallowing in the trough of the sea, as though she were only partly under control, was a steamer.

"I see her!" Jack shouted, and then the Tartar, went down in the hollow between two waves again, and he could glimpse only the seething water as it hissed past under the force of the wind.

"I think it's the Ramona--I'm not sure," was the lieutenant's next remark.

"What are you going to do about it?" Jack wanted to know.

"Hang on as long as I can," was the grim reply. "She doesn't look as though she were good for much more, and we are."

"Yes, we seem to be making it pretty well," Jack answered.

Indeed the staunch little Tartar was more than living up to her name. She was buoyant, and there was a power and thrust to her screw that kept her head on to the heavy seas, which allowed her to ride them.

The chase was now on, and a chase it was, for soon after sighting the steamer ahead of them, Lieutenant Walling, by means of powerful glasses, had made sure that she was the Ramona, and, without doubt, in charge of the mutineers, unless, indeed, the half of the crew opposed to them, had risen, and taken matters into their own hands.

"But we'll soon find out," said the lieutenant, grimly.

"How?"' asked Cora, for, the officer had come down into the cabin. "Can you board her now?"

"Hardly, in this blow, Miss Kimball. But we can hang on, and get them as soon as it lets up a little."

"Won't they get away from us?" Bess wanted to know. She, as well as her more fragile sister, had thoroughly entered into the spirit of the chase now.

"I think we can more than hold our own with them," answered the lieutenant. "You have a very fast craft here, and owing to the fact that they haven't much coal, and that they have probably suffered some damage, we won't let them get away very easily. We can hold on, I think."

"Then you won't try to run up alongside now?" Walter wanted to know.

"Indeed not! It would be dangerous. She rolls like a porpoise in a seaway, and she'd crush us like an egg shell if we got too close. All we can do is to hold off a bit, until this blows out. And it can't last very long at this season of the year. Storms never do."

For all the hopeful prediction of the young officer, this blow showed no signs of an early abatement. The wind seemed to increase, rather than diminish and the seas were still very high.

Through it all the Tartar behaved well. Joe, with Slim Jim, the faithful negro, to help, kept the motors up to their work, and Walters Jack and the lieutenant took turns steering, for it was too much to ask Joe or Jim to do this in addition to their other work.

The afternoon was waning, and it was evident that there would be another early night, for the clouds were thick. Walter and Jack had gone up on deck, while the lieutenant remained in the cabin, taking some hot tea which Cora had prepared for him. A warm feeling of friendship sprung up between the young officer and our travelers. Inez was not feeling well, and had gone to lie down in her berth, though it was anything but comfortable there, since the boat rolled and pitched so.

"I say!" called Jack, down a partly opened port into the cabin, "I think you'd better come up here, Lieutenant."

"Oh, he hasn't had his tea yet!" objected Cora.

"That doesn't matter--if something is up!" was the hasty rejoinder, and, leaving the table, the revenue officer hastened up on deck, buttoning his oilskins as he went.

"What is it?" he asked of the two young men.

"She seems to be turning," said Jack, "thought you'd better know."

"That's right. I'm glad you called me. Yes, she is changing her course," said Lieutenant Walling. "I wonder what she's up to?"

The Ramona--Jack and Walter had made out her name under her stem rail now--was still slowly wallowing in the sea. She appeared to have lost headway, for she was moving very slowly, having barely steerage-way on. The Tartar had no trouble in keeping up to her.

"I wonder if they've seen us, and are waiting for us?" ventured Walter.

"They may have seen us, but they wouldn't stop--not in this sea," was the reply of the revenue officer. "They're up to some trick, and I can't just fathom what it is."

With keen eyes he watched the steamer as it tore on through the mist. It was much nearer now.

"I have an idea!" suddenly exclaimed the British officer. "I'll be back in a moment."

He hurried down to the cabin again, and through a port Jack and Walter saw him bending over some charts. In a few minutes the lieutenant was up on deck again.

"I understand!" he cried. "I know what they're up to now."

"What?" asked Jack. He did not have to shout so loudly now, as the storm seemed to be lessening in its fury.

"They're going to run in under the lea of Palm Island," said Lieutenant Walling. "I guess they've had enough of it. This is the beginning of the end. They must be in bad shape."

"Sinking--do you mean?" asked Walter.

"No, not exactly. But they may have run out of coal, and can't keep the engines going any longer. Yes, that's what they're doing--making for Palm Island."

"What sort of a place is that?" Jack wanted to know.

"A mighty ticklish sort of place to run for during a storm," was the answer. "There's a bad coral reef at the entrance to the harbor, but once you pass that you're all right. I wonder if they can navigate it?"

"And if they don't?" asked Jack.

"Well, they'll pile her up on the reef, and she'll pound to pieces in no time in this sea."

Walter and Jack followed the lieutenant to the after deck, where the wheel was. There the revenue officer relieved Joe, the latter going to his motor, which needed attention. The storm was constantly growing less in violence.

As yet there was no sign of an island, but presently, through the gathering darkness, there loomed up a black mass in the swirl of white waters.

Now came the hard and risky work of getting in through the opening of a dangerous coral reef to the sheltered harbor. The big steamer went first, and, for a time, it seemed she was doomed, for the current played with her like a toy ship. But whoever was in charge of the wheel had a master's hand, and soon the craft had shot into the calm waters, followed by the Tartar.

It was a great relief from the pitching and tossing of the last two days.

"Oh, to be quiet again!"

"Isn't it delightful!" agreed Bess. "And now if we can only find our folks!"

Lieutenant Walling lost no time. As the Ramona dropped her anchor, he sent the Tartar alongside, and on his official hail a ladder was lowered. Walter and Jack mounted with him.

"Every mutinous member of this crew is under arrest!" was the grim announcement of the revenue officer. "Who's in charge? Are there any passengers aboard?"

Anxiously Jack looked for a sign of his mother, or for Mr. and Mrs. Robinson. He saw nothing of them.

"The passengers were all put ashore, sir," said sailor, with a salute.

"Where?" demanded the lieutenant.

Before he could answer there came on deck a fat man, at the sight of whom Jack uttered an exclamation.

"Senor Ramo!" cried Cora's brother.