Chapter VII. New Plans
 

"You mustn't do that!" cried Cora. "Hold her, girls!"

"But ze man--my papairs!" fairly screamed the Spanish visitor.

"He has nothing--Walter is after him--he doesn't seem to have taken anything," said Belle, soothingly, as Mrs. Kimball pressed back on the pillow the frail form of the eager girl. Inez struggled for a moment, and then lay quiet.

But she murmured, over and over again:

"Oh, if he has--if he has--my father--he may never see ze outside of ze prison again!"

"We will help you," said Cora's mother, softly. "If there has been a robbery, the authorities shall be notified. I will have one of the girls inquire. You say Walter is down there, Belle?"

"Yes, and a man is running off down the road. I'll go see what it all means."

"I wish you would, please."

The eager gaze of Inez followed Belle as she left the room. The little excitement had proved rather good, than otherwise, for the patient, for there was a glow and flush to her dusky cheeks and her eyes had lost that dull, hopeless look of combined hunger and fear.

Quiet now reigned in the little chamber where the lace seller had been given such a haven of rest.

"What's it all about, Wally?" asked Belle, as she encountered the chum of Cora's brother, who was coming up the side steps bearing a black valise, from which streamed lengths of lace.

"Some enterprising beggar tried to make off with this valise," he said. "I had come down from Jack's room, and was sitting in the library, when I saw him sneak up on the porch, and try to get away with it. He dropped it like a hot potato when I sang out to him. But whose is it? Doesn't look like the one Cora uses when she goes off for a week-end, that is, unless you girls have taken to wearing more lace on your dresses than you used to."

"It belongs to the lace seller--Inez--you know, the one we spoke of," said Belle. "She's here--in a sort of collapse from hunger. And she has told the strangest story--all about a political crime--her father in prison--secret papers and a mysterious man after them."

"Good!" cried Waker, with a short laugh. "I seem to have fitted in just right to foil the villain in getting the papers. Say, better not let Jack know about this, or he'll be on the job, too, and what he needs just now is a rest--eh, Harry?"

"That's it," agreed the other college youth, whom Belle had not noticed since coming down stairs in such haste.

"Wally robbed me of the honors," complained Harry. "I was just going to make after the fellow."

"And was he really going to steal the papers?" asked Belle.

"I don't know as to that," Walter answered.

"I don't know anything about any papers. But Harry and I were sitting here, after seeing that Jack was comfortable in his room, waiting for the doctor, when I heard someone come up the steps. At first I thought it was Dr. Blake himself but when the footsteps became softer, and more stealthy, as the novels have it, I took a quiet observation.

"Then I saw this Italian-looking chap reaching for the valise. I let out a yell, went after him and he dropped it. Ahem! Nothing like having a first-class hero in the family!" and Walter swelled out his chest, and looked important.

"Better find out, first, whether you saved the papers, or just the empty valise," suggested Harry, with a smile. "Such things have been known to happen, you know."

"That's right!" admitted Walter. "Guess I had better look," and he was proceeding to open a valise when Belle hastily took it from him.

"You mustn't!" she exclaimed. "It isn't ours, and poor little Inez may not like it. Leave it up to her and she can tell if anything is missing."

"Just tell that I saved it for her--I, Walter Pennington!" begged the owner of that name. "Nothing like making a good impression, from the start, on the pretty stranger," he added. "Eh?"

"Just my luck!" murmured Harry, with a tragic air.

"Oh, you silly boys!" laughed Belle. She hastened up the stairs to the room where Inez as resting, the lace trailing from the half-opened valise.

"Oh, you have it back--my satchel!" gasped a Spanish girl. "Oh, if ze papairs are only safe!"

They were, evidently, for she gave utterance a sigh of relief when she drew a bundle of crackling documents from a side pocket of the valise, under a pile of filmy lace, at the sight of which Cora and the girls uttered exclamations of delight. Inez heard them.

"Take it--take it all!" she begged of them, thrusting into Mrs. Kimball's hands a mass of the beautiful cob-webby stuff. "It is all yours, and too little for what you have done for me!"

"Nonsense!" exclaimed Cora's mother. "This lace is beautiful. I shall be glad to purchase some of it, and pay you well for it--I can't get that kind in the stores. You didn't show me this at first."

"No, Senora, I was too tired. But it is all yours. I care not for it, now zat I have ze papairs safe. Zey are for my father!"

"Do you really think some man was trying to get them?" asked Cora.

"Oh, yes, Senorita," was the serious answer.

"There was a man up on the stoop--he had the valise, Walter said," put in Belle. "He dropped it and ran."

"Who could he be?" asked Cora.

"An enemy!" fairly hissed the Spanish girl, with something of dramatic intensity. "I tried to keep secret ze fact zat I was working for my father's release. I will not tire you wiz telling you all, but some enemies know I have papairs zat prove ze innocence of Senor Ralcanto. Zis man--Pedro Valdez he call himself--has been trying to get zem from me. He tried in New York, and he said he would give me no rest until he had zem. He must have been following me--no hard task since I have traveled a slow and weary way. Zen, when he saw my valise--he must have thought it his chance."

"How dreadful!" murmured Bess. "To think that such things could happen in Chelton!"

"And perhaps we are not at the end of them yet," said Cora, softly. "The man got away, didn't he, Belle?"

"So Walter said. Oh, dear! I'm glad we're going to the West Indies!"

"Oh, zat I were going wiz you!" exclaimed Inez, clasping her thin, brown hands in an appealing gesture. "But if you will take zese papairs, Senorita, and help to free my father--I will never be able to repay your great kindness."

"We shall have to ask papa about it," said Bess, cautiously. "Would you like to have him come and talk to you--he would understand about the political side of it so much better than we would."

"I would gladly welcome ze senor," said Inez, with a graceful dignity. "I shall be honored if he come."

"I think he'll be glad to," spoke Belle. "He loves anything about, politics--he's a reformer, you know."

"And so was my father--he belong to ze reform party--but the others--zey of ze old regime--zey like not reform in Sea Horse Island," chattered Inez. "Zey lose too much money zereby. So my father he is in prison, and I am here!" she finished, softly.

"Well, it's all dreadfully mixed up," sighed Cora, "and I believe it will take your father, Belle, to straighten out some of the tangle. Meanwhile, I suppose I'd better put these papers in the safe," for Inez had thrust them into Cora's rather unwilling hands.

"Keep zern safe, if you can Senora," pleaded the girl. "Zat--zat villain, if I must call him such--zat Valdez may come back for zem."

Mrs. Kimball started.

"Don't worry, mother," said Cora. "Jack is home now, to say nothing of Walter and Harry."

"Oh, my poor boy!" exclaimed his mother. "I must go to him. Dr. Blake ought to be here."

"There comes his car now," volunteered Belle. "I know the sound."

Several events, of no particular importance now followed each other in rapid succession. It was Dr. Blake who had arrived, and he was soon subjecting Jack to a searching medical examination, with the result of which, only, we need concern ourselves. Cora, slipping the bundle of papers the Spanish girl had given her into the house safe, begged Walter to keep a sharp lookout for the possible return of the mysterious man, and then she went back to stay with Inez until Dr. Blake should be able to see the foreign visitor. Harry and Walter talked in the library, and Bess and Belle--after a brief chat with the other boys, went home to tell their folks the news, and consult Mr. Robinson about the Spanish prisoner.

"Rest--rest and a change of scene--a complete change is all he needs," had been Dr. Blake's verdict regarding Jack. "If he could go south for the winter, it would be the making of him. He'll come back in the spring a new lad. But a rest and change he must have. His nerves demand it!"

"And we shall see that he gets it," said Mrs. Kimball. "Now about that girl, Doctor."

"Nothing the matter with her--just starved, that's all. The easiest prescription to write in the world. Feed her. You've already got a good start on it. Keep it up."

"Of course you can't advise us about her father, and the story she tells."

"No. She seems sincere, though. As you say, Mr. Robinson, with his business connections, will be the best one at that end of it."

"Poor girl," murmured Cora. "I do hope we can help her."

"She has been helped already," the physician informed her. "And, if I am any judge by the past activities of the motor girls, she is in for a great deal more of help in the future," and he laughed and pinched Cora's tanned check.

"Will you need to see Jack again?" asked his mother.

"Not until just before he goes away. The less medicine he takes the better, though I'll leave a simple bromide mixture for those shrieking nerves of his--they will cry out once in a while--the ends are all bare--they need padding with new thoughts. Get him away as soon as you can."

It was a new problem for the Kimball family to solve, but they were equal to it. Fortunately, money matters did not stand in the road, and since Jack was not to keep up his studies, and since Cora had "finished," there were no ties of location to hinder.

"I guess we'll all have to go away," sighed Mrs. Kimball. "I had rather counted on a quiet winter in Chelton, but of course now we can't have it."

"Perhaps it will be all for the best," suggested Cora. "If Bess and Belle are going away, I won't have any fun here alone."

A little silence followed this remark. The Robinson twins, who had just come back for an evening call, sat looking at each other. Between them they seemed to hide some secret.

"You tell her, Bess," suggested Belle.

"You, you, dear!"

"Is there anything?" asked Cora, smiling at her chums.

"Oh, dear, it's the best thing in the world--if you'll consent to it!" burst out Bess. "Listen! Papa and mamma want you to come with us, Cora--to the West Indies. They'd love to have you and your mother."

"We couldn't leave Jack!" said Cora, softly.

"Bring him along!" invited Belle. "It would be just the thing for him--wouldn't it, Dr. Blake?"

"The West Indies? Yes, I should say there couldn't be a better place."

"Oh!" gasped Cora.

"Do say yes, Mrs. Kimball!" pleaded Belle.

"What about poor little Inez?" questioned Cora. "Did you tell your father, Bess?"

"Yes, and he seems to think there may be something in it. He is going to make inquiries. Oh, but let's settle this first. Will you come with us, Mrs. Kimball--Cora? And bring Jack! Oh, it would be just perfect to have you with us."

"Could we go, Mother?" Cora pleaded.

"Why, it is all so sudden--and yet there is no good reason why we shouldn't."

"Good!" cried Walter. "I'm coming, too! I never could leave old Jack! Ho, for the West Indies!"