Chapter VIII. The Dream of Inez
 

"Oh, Walter, are you really going?"

"Do you mean it?"

"Are you joking?"

Thus Belle, Bess and Cora questioned Jack's chum, who stood in the center of the library, one hand thrust between two buttons of his coat, and the other raised above his head like some political orator of the old school.

"Mean it? Of course I mean it!" he exclaimed, while Dr. Blake chuckled. "I need a rest and change. Anyone will tell you that--er my appetite is not what it once was."

"No, it's on the increase," murmured Harry.

"And as for nerves--"

"Nerve, you mean," Harry went on. "You have more than your share."

"There, you see!" declaimed Walter, triumphantly. "I simply need some change."

"Better pay back what you borrowed of me to fee the Pullman porter," went on his tormentor.

"Hush!" ordered Walter, imperiously. "I'll pay you--when I come back from the West Indies."

"You seem to think it's all settled," laughed Cora.

"It is, as far as I'm concerned," said Walter, coolly. "If I can't go any other way I'll go as a valet to Mr. Robinson, or courier to the rest of the family. I can speak the language--habe Espanola? Oh, you simply can't get along without me--especially as I'll pay my own fare. And, Jack'll need me, too. It's all settled."

Mrs. Kimball looked at Dr. Blake. There was a serious and questioning look on her face.

"What do you think, Doctor?" she asked.

"Professionally, I should say it was an excellent chance," he replied. "It would do Jack a world of good, and, though neither you nor Cora seems to be in need of recuperation, I have no doubt you would enjoy the trip."

"Then you simply must come!" cried Belle. "I'll 'phone papa at once."

"Not quite so fast, my dear," said Mrs. Kimball, gently. "I must first see if Jack would like it."

"He's sure to," declared Cora, who already had visions of palm-tufted coral islands, and deep blue waters.

"Just tell him he's going," suggested Dr. Blake. "Patients, such as he, don't need much urging one way or the other. The trouble is they are too little inclined to resist."

He took up his, hat, as a signal that he was going, and once more expressing his professional opinion that the change would be the best possible medicine for Jack, took his leave.

"Let's go up and tell Jack now," suggested Cora, who, the more she thought of the new plan, more cordially welcomed it.

"It might disturb his night's rest," objected her mother. "He has had a hard day, traveling and all that--"

"He seemed very bright," put in Walter. "I think it would give him something good to think of. He's been brooding too much over having to quit the football eleven and his favorite studies."

"Then tell him, by all means," assented Mrs. Kimball. "May we count on you, if we make up a party to go to the West Indies?" she asked of Harry.

"I'm afraid not, thank you. I'd give anything to go, but I can't spare the time from college. Some other occasion, perhaps."

As Walter had predicted, Jack took fire at once oh hearing the proposal.

"It'll be great!" he declared. "I've always wanted to go. I wonder what sort of a boat we could get down there, Wally? It would be immense to go on a cruise, among those hundreds of islands."

"Time enough to think of that when we get there, old man. Then you'd like to go?"

"I sure would. Tell Mr. Robinson thanks--a hundred times."

"I'll save some of them for to-morrow; it's getting late. Now turn over, and go to sleep."

"Sleep! As if I could sleep with that news! Let's talk about it!"

And they did--the girls coming up with Mrs. Kimball for a brief chat. Then the invalid was ordered to quiet down for the night.

Walter, with Harry, who was to remain at the Kimball residence for a few days, went home with the Robinson twins in their car, Cora trailing along in her automobile to bring back the boys.

The next day nothing was talked of but the prospective trip. Walter wired his people and received permission to absent himself from college, ostensibly to help look after Jack. As Harry had said, he could not go, but Mrs. Kimball and Cora fully made up their minds to make the journey with Jack, and close up the Chelton home for the winter months.

"But what about Inez and her political problem?" asked Belle, when this much had been settled. "She doesn't want to stay and be, as she says, a burden on you any longer, poor little girl."

"She's far from being a burden," spoke Cora. "Why, mother says the lace she sold us was the most wonderful bargain, even though we did give her more than she asked for it. And as for making pretty things, why she's a positive genius. My pretty lace handkerchief that was so badly torn, she mended beautifully. And she is so skillful with the needle! Mother says she never need go out peddling lace again. There are any number of shops that would be glad to have her as a worker."

"It's so good she fell into your hands," murmured Bess. "But, as you say, what about her? Papa has looked over her papers, and he says there is really enough evidence in them to free Mr. Ralcanto. Papa even cabled to some business friends in San Juan, and they confirmed enough of Inez's story to make him believe it all.

"Of course I don't understand--I never could make head nor tail of politics, but there seems to be a conspiracy to keep Mr. Ralcanto in jail, and treat him shamefully. Inez did accidentally find the evidence to free him, and her father's enemies tried to get it away from her."

"Then that man whom Walter saw," began Cora, "was--"

"He might have been after the papers," interrupted Bess, "and again, he might have been only a tramp, hoping to get a valise full of lace. At any rate, he hasn't been around again."'

"Mother told our man John to be on the watch for him," said Cora. "And now lets consider what we are going to do. What shall I need to take in the way of clothes?"

"Only your very lightest, my dear," suggested Belle. "Of course the trip down on the steamer will be cool--at least the first day or so. Well start in about two weeks. That will bring us to Porto Rica about, the beginning of the dry season--the most delightful time."

"And is your father really going to try to have the Spanish prisoner released?" asked Cora.

"He says he is, my dear. And when papa makes up his mind to do a thing, it is generally done," said Bess. "Besides, he has learned that Mr. Ralcanto did some political favors for friends of papa's. That is before the poor man was put in prison. Which brings us back to Inez--what about her, Cora?"

"I have just thought of something," murmured Jack's sister. "As I said, she has several times suggested going, now she is practically assured that something will be attempted for her father. But I was just wondering why we couldn't take her with us?"

"Of course!" cried Belle.

"Mamma was going to take Janet for a maid," Cora resumed, "but Janet isn't very keen on going. I fancy she thinks the West Indian Islands are inhabited by cannibals."

"The idea!" laughed Bess.

"Well, I found her reading some books on African travel," Cora went on, "and she asked me if the climate wasn't about the same. She seems to think all hot countries are the homes of cannibals. So I imagine Janet will refuse to go--at the last moment."

"Would Inez go, as a maid?" asked Belle.

"I fancy so. She says she has done so before, since the change in her fortunes. And mother and I like her very much. Besides, she speaks Spanish, and that would be a great help."

"Why, Walter said--" began Bess, wonderingly.

"He knows just two words of Spanish, and he speaks them as though he were a German comedian," declared Cora. "Wally is all right otherwise, but as a translator of the Castilian tongue, I wouldn't trust him to ask what time it was," she laughed. But Inez would be such a help."

"Then why don't you take her?" asked Bess. And, when it had been talked over with Mrs. Kimball, it was practically decided upon.

"Lets go tell Inez," proposed Belle, "when the decision had been reached. It will be such a surprise to her."

The Spanish girl, though not fully recovered from the long period of insufficient food and weary toil, had insisted upon taking up some of the duties, of the Kimball home. But Cora's mother required that she rest a portion of each day to recover her strength. And, as the girls sought her in her own little room (for Inez was anything but a servant), they found her just awakening from a sleep.

"Oh, Senoritas!" she exclaimed, her cheeks flushed under their olive tint. "I have had such a beautiful dream. I dreamed I was back in my own dear country--on Sea Horse Island. Oh, but ze palms waved a welcome to me, and ze waters--ze so blue waters--zey sang a song to me. Ze blue waves broke on ze coral--as I have seen it so, often. Oh, but, Senoritas, I was sorry to awaken--so sorry--for it was but a dream."

"No, Inez, it was not all a dream," said Cora, gently. "If you like, you may go back to Sea Horse Island. We will take you to Porto Rico with us, and from there you can easily go to your own island."

"Oh, will you--will you take me, Senoritas?" cried Inez, kneeling at Cora's feet. "Oh, but it is magnificent of you!" and she covered Cora's hands with kisses.