Chapter XXIX. At Sea Horse
 

There proved to be a good harbor at Double Island--a harbor ringed about with sand-fringed coral, with a sandy bottom which could be seen through the limpid depths of the blue water that was as clear as a sapphire-tinted crystal. And, a short way up from the beach was a line of palms and other tropical plants, while, in a little clearing, near what proved to be a trickling spring, was a rude sort of hut.

"Ahoy, folks!" yelled Jack, his voice a shout with its old vigor. "Here we are!"

What the three on the beach said could not be heard, but they were plainly much excited.

"They don't yet know who we are," said Cora.

"They only know they are being rescued," echoed Bess.

"Oh, but isn't it great--we've found them!" cried Belle in delight, hugging first Cora, Bess and next Inez.

Inez said nothing, but her shining eyes told of the joy she felt in the happiness of her friends. Her time for rejoicing was yet to come.

So little did the beach in the coral harbor shelve that the big motor boat could come up to within a few yards of the shore.

"Why it's Jack--and Cora!" cried Mrs. Robinson. "It's your son and daughter--and the girls! Oh, of all things!"

Mrs. Kimball could not answer. She was softly crying on the shoulder of Mrs. Robinson, Mr. Robinson, who had been trying to catch some crabs along shore, had his trousers rolled up. He was rather a disheveled figure as he stood there--in fact, none of the refugees appeared to sartorial advantage--but who minded that?"

"Hurray!" yelled Mr. Robinson, waving, a piece of cloth on a stick--an improvised crab-net.

"Hurray!" So you've come for the Robinson Crusoes; have you?"

"That's it!" shouted Jack, who was getting the small boat ready to go ashore.

"I thought we'd find them," spoke Lieutenant Walling.

"Oh, and we can't, thank you enough!" Cora murmured to him gratefully. "Only for you we might not have located the Ramona in a long time, and we night have been a month finding the folks. And you dear good girl!" she went on, putting her arms about Inez. "Next we are going to rescue your father."

"I shall be glad--mos' glad!" said the Spanish girl, softly.

Then they all went ashore, and brother and sisters were clasped in the arms of their loved ones.

"But how did it all happen?" asked Mr. Robinson. "How did you know where to look for us? Did the Ramona's crew repent, and send you for us? Tell us all about it! How are you, anyhow?"

He poured out a veritable flood of questions, which the girls, Jack, Walter and Lieutenant Walling tried to answer as best they could--the girls, it must be confessed, rather hysterically and tearfully.

"It was Cora and Jack who had the idea," said Bess, when quiet had been a little restored. "They determined to charter a motor boat and go in search of you, after we heard that the Ramona had foundered in the storm. And of course we wouldn't be left behind."

"Brave girls," murmured their mother.

"Indeed they were brave," declared Jack, patting Bess on her plump shoulder.

"We--we were afraid of being left behind," confessed Belle. "So we came."

"But what have you done since being marooned here?" Cora wanted to know. "Wasn't it awful--just awful?"

"Not so awful!" answered Mr. Robinson, with a laugh that could be jolly now. "We've had a fine time, and you should see some of the orchids I have gathered! It was worth all the hardship!"

"But, really, it hasn't been so bad," said Mrs. Kimball. "The weather was delightful, except for the two storms, and we have had enough to eat--such as it was. We have been camping out, and no more ideal place for such a life can be found than a West Indian coral island in December."

She looked back amid the palms, among which grew in a tropical luxuriousness many beautiful blossoms, with birds of brilliant plumage flitting from flower to flower.

"And you look so well," commented Cora, for indeed, aside from traces of sunburn, the refugees were pictures of health.

"We are well," declared Mrs. Robinson. "But of course we have been terribly worried about you girls, and Jack, too. How are you, Jack?" she asked, anxiously.

"You needn't ask," laughed Cora. "One glance is enough."

"Oh, I had a little touch of my old trouble," said Jack, in answer to his mother's questioning glance, "but I'm fine and fit now. But tell us about yourselves."

"Well, we're camping out here," said Mr. Robinson, with a laugh, "waiting for some vessel to come along and take us off. We could have stood it for another month, though it was getting pretty lonesome, with all due respect to the ladies," and he made a mock bow.

"That's nothing to how tiresome just one man can get, my dears!" put in his wife, to the girls.

Then they exchanged stories of their adventures. As those of the motor girls are well known to our readers, there is no need to dwell further on them.

As the crew of the Ramona had confessed, they had set the passengers--Mrs. Kimball and Mr. and Mrs. Robinson--ashore on Double Island, some time after the uprising. Our friends were glad enough to leave the vessel, for there were constant bickering and quarrels among the mutineers. Affairs did not go at all smoothly.

So it was with comparatively small regret that the refugees found themselves set ashore. They were given a boat, and a sufficient supply of food and stores. Only in the matter of clothing were they handicapped, having only a few belongings, the mutineers keeping the remainder.

"When we got ashore, and took an account of stock," said Mr. Robinson, "I found some sort of shelter would be necessary, even if we were in a land of almost perpetual June.

"This wasn't the first time I had gone camping, under worse circumstances than these, so I soon put up this hut. Not bad, is it?" and he waved his hand toward the palm-leaf thatched structure.

"It's great!" cried Jack. "I think I'll stay here a while myself, and camp out"

"You may--I've had enough," said Mrs. Robinson. "Oh, I do hope you girls have some spare hairpins!" she exclaimed. "Perry said to use thorns, but even if Mother Eve did her hair up that way, I can't!" she sighed.

"Well, to make a long story short," resumed Mr. Robinson, "we've been here ever since. And we are beginning to enjoy ourselves. We've had enough to eat, such as it is, though the tinned stuff gets a trifle palling after a time. So I've been trying to catch a few crabs."

"And he hasn't had any luck--he might as well confess," said his wife.

"Give me time, my dear," protested Mr. Robinson. "There's one now!"

He made a swoop with the improvised net, but the crustacean flipped itself into deep water and escaped.

"Never mind--you're going to leave now, Dad!" said Bess, gaily.

The young folks inspected the rude hut, and were charmed by its simplicity.

"Though it does leak," said Mr. Robinson.

"I must admit that."

"Leak!" cried Mrs. Robinson. "It's a regular sieve!"

"Might as well haul down our signal," observed Mr. Robinson, for on a tall palm, at a prominent height of the island, he had raised an improvised flag.

Double Island was uninhabited, and was seldom visited by any vessels, though in the course of time the refugees would have been rescued even if the motor girls had not come for them. But their experience would have been unpleasant, if not dangerous.

"Well, let's go aboard and start back to civilization," proposed Belle, after Lieutenant Walling had been introduced, and his part in the affair told.

"But we mustn't forget Inez's father!" cried Cora. "We still have some rescue work to do."

"Oh, I'm so sorry I couldn't make any move along that line," spoke Mr. Robinson. "But now I'll attend to it, Inez."

"We'll make for Sea Horse Island at once," said Cora. "Inez has the papers with her. Tell him how you threatened Senor Ramo, dear," and the tale of the fat Spaniard was related.

Made comfortable aboard the Tartar, which had resumed her strange cruise, the refugees told little details of their marooning, which story there had not been time for on the island.

The days were pleasant, the weather all that could be desired, and in due season Sea Horse was sighted. This was a small place, maintained by the Spanish government as a prison for political offenders. As the Tartar approached the fort at the harbor entrance, Lieutenant Walling looked through the glass at several flags flying from a high pole.

"Something wrong here," he announced.

"What do you mean?" asked Jack.

"Some prisoner, or prisoners, have escaped," was the answer. "'The signal indicates that. We'll soon find out."

A curious idea came into Jack's head.