Chapter XXX. Senor Ralcanto
 

Sea Horse Island was not attractive. There was no coral enclosed harbor, filled with limpid blue water--though the sea off shore was blue enough, for that matter. There were a few waving palms, and a hill or two midland. But that was all. The principal building was the political prison, and the barracks, or quarters of the commanding officer and his aides. In fact, Sea Horse Island was as little beautiful as its name. But the eyes of Inez glowed when she saw it, for once it had been home to her.

"And now to see my father!" cried the Spanish girl, when preparations were made for going ashore. "Zey can hardly keep me from seeing him, can zey?" she asked Mr. Robinson and Lieutenant Walling.

"I think not, my dear," said the former. "And if I am any judge of the worth of evidence, they can't refuse to let him go, after we show our documents, though it may take a little time."

"Matters may not be all easy sailing now," suggested the British officer.

"Why not?" demanded Cora.

"Because of the fact that there has been an escape--perhaps several," was the answer. "Those signal flags are a warning to all vessels not to take aboard any refugees that seem to have escaped from here, unless they are taken as prisoners."

"How horrid!" murmured Bess.

"But we'll go see the commandant, and learn how matters stand," went on Mr. Robinson. "Fortunately I have letters from persons in influence that may aid me. And you have your papers, Inez?"

"Yes, Senor. I have them," she answered.

Our friends were stared at rather disconcertingly as they landed, and there was no little suspicion in the glances directed at them, as they made their way to the commandant's quarters.

There was some delay before they were admitted, for they all went in together, all save Walter, and he had said it might be best if he remained on board the Tartar with Joe and Jim.

"We have come," said Mr. Robinson to the Spanish officer, "to arrange for the release of Senor Ralcanto--the father of this young lady. We have papers which prove his innocence of the charge against him, and I may add that one, of the men responsible for his unjust arrest is himself a prisoner, and on a more serious charge than a mere political one. I refer to Senor Ramo, who is in jail at Palm Island."

The commandant started. Evidently he was regarding his callers with more courtesy, for he had been a bit supercilious at first.

"Senor Ramo incarcerated?" he asked. "Is it possible?"

"Very much so," went on Mr. Robinson, grimly. "And now we come to demand the release of Senor Ralcanto--or at least I demand to have an interview with him--as does his daughter--that we may take measures for freeing him. If you will look at the copies of these papers, you will see what authority we have," and he tossed some letters, and copies of the documents Inez had recovered, on the table.

"I am sorry, but it is impossible to grant what you request," said the commandant stiffly, hardly glancing at the papers.

"Why?" asked Mr. Robinson, truculently. "Do you mean we cannot see the prisoner, or that you will not release him?"

"Both!" was the surprising answer. "You cannot see Senor Ralcanto because he is not here. And I cannot release him, had I the power, for he has released himself. In other words, Senor, he has escaped!"

"Escaped!" cried Jack and Cora in a breath. "My father escaped!" murmured Inez. "Oh, praise ze dear God for zat! He is free! Oh, but where is he?"

"That I know not, Senorita," was the stiff answer. "I wish I did. We have searched for him, but have not found him. He must have had friends working for him on the outside," and he glanced with suspicious eyes at our friends.

"Well, we probably would have worked for him, had we had the chance," said Mr. Robinson, "but we had no hand in his escape. May I ask how he got away from your prison?"

"In a boat--about a week ago," was the grudging reply. "That is all I can say. He is no longer on Sea Horse Island. I have the honor to bid you good-day!"

"Polite, at any rate," murmured Jack. "Bow, what's our next move?"

"To find her father!" exclaimed the British officer, promptly. He had entered into this as enthusiastically as he had into the task of finding the mutineers and smugglers.

"If he got away in a boat," resumed the lieutenant, "he would most likely make for some island. There are many such not far from here, but these Spaniards are so back-numbered, they wouldn't think of making a systematic search. That's for us to do."

"Oh, if we can only find him!" murmured Inez.

"We will--never fear!" cried Jack, with as much enthusiasm as he could muster at short notice.

It was little use to linger longer on Sea Horse Island. No more information concerning the escaped man was available. It must be a "blind search" from then on. Still, the searchers did not give up hope, and once more the Tartar was under way.

I shall not weary you with the details of the final part of her cruise. Suffice it to say that many islands were called at, and many vessels spoken, with a view to finding out if any of the uninhabited coral specks in that stretch of blue West Indian waters had, of late, showed signs of being inhabited by a lone man. But no helpful clue was obtained.

Still the search was kept up. Mr. Robinson, his wife and Mrs. Kimball stayed with the young people, having renewed their wardrobes at the first suitable stopping place. Then the search was resumed.

And, curiously enough, it was Inez who discovered the torn rag, floating from a tree, which gave the signal that help was needed at a lonely isle they reached about two weeks after the search began.

"I think some one is zere," she said to Jack, pointing to the signal.

"It does look so," he agreed. "We'll put in there."

"A hard place to live," said Lieutenant Walling, as he came on deck and viewed the little Island. "It is very barren."

"Do you--do you think it can be my father?" faltered Inez.

"It is possible--it is some poor soul, at all events--or some one has been there," the officer concluded.

"You mean it may be too late?" asked Cora, softly.

Lieutenant Walling nodded his head in confirmation.

The Tartar anchored off shore, and the small boat went to the beach. Hardly had it ground on the shingle than a tattered and ragged--a tottering figure crawled from the bushes. It was the figure of a man, much emaciated from hunger. But the eyes showed bright from under the matted hair and from out of the straggly beard. Inez, who had come ashore with the first boat-load, sprang forward.

"Padre! Padre!" she cried, opening wide her arms, "I have found you at last! Padre! Padre!"

The others drew a little aside.

Once more the Tartar was under way. She was nearing the end of her strange cruise, for she was headed for San Juan--the blue harbor of San Juan. Seated on deck, in an easy chair, was a Spanish gentleman, about whom Inez fluttered in a joy of service. It was her father.

He had, after many failures, made his escape from Sea Horse Island in a small boat, and had lived, for some time on the little coral rock, hardly worthy the name islet. He had almost starved, but he was free. Then his privations became too much for him, and he hoisted his signal for help. He would even have welcomed a Spanish party, so distressed was he.

But his own daughter--and friends--came instead. And, had he but waited a few weeks, he need not have so suffered in running away from his prison. The papers Inez had secured would have brought about his freedom from the unjust charge.

"But we have him anyhow!" cried Jack, "and a good job it was, too!"

"Isn't Jack just splendid!" murmured Bess to Cora. "He is so well again!"

"Yes, the trip, in spite of its hardships, has worked wonders for him."

"And I suppose we'll have to go back North again soon," remarked Belle. "Papa's business here is practically finished."

"Yes, we are going back to civilization, without smugglers and mutineers,"' said Mrs. Kimball.

"Oh, I rather liked them, they were sort of a tonic," laughed Mrs. Robinson.

"Sometimes one can take a little too much tonic," spoke Cora. "But it certainly has been a wonderful experience."

The Tartar dropped anchor at San Juan, coming to rest in the waters blue, over which she had skimmed on so many adventuresome trips of late.

"Well, are you glad to be back here?" asked Jack, of Senor Ralcanto.

"Indeed, yes, I am. And you have all been so kind to me. I can never repay you for what you have done for my daughter and myself," and he stroked the dark hair of Inez, who knelt at his side.

"Well, send for us again if you--er--need our services," suggested Walter.

"Thank you--but I am going to keep out of prison after this," was the laughing answer.

There is little more to tell of this story. Senor Ralcanto was speedily recovering from his harsh experiences, when our friends took a steamer for New York, some weeks later. The mutineers and smugglers of the Ramona, including Senor Ramo, the real, influential leader, were duty punished.

After a final cruise about the blue waters of San Juan, in the Tartar, our friends bade farewell to the craft that had served them so efficiently.

"Good-bye!" called Cora, as she stood on the steamer-deck, homeward bound, and waved her hand to the blue sky, the blue waters, the blue mountains and the green, waving palms. "Good-bye! Good-bye!"

And we will echo her words.

THE END