Chapter IX. Off to Waters Blue

"Oh, Jack! Aren't you just wild to go?"

"I don't know, Cora. Anything for a change, I suppose," was the listless answer. "I'd go anywhere--do anything--just to get one good night's sleep again."

"You poor boy! Didn't you rest well?"

"A little better than usual, but I'm so dead tired when I wake up--I don't seem to have closed my eyes."

Jack's nervous trouble had taken the turn of insomnia---that bugbear of physician and patient alike--and while the others had their night hours filled with dreams, or half-dreams, of pleasant anticipation, poor Jack tumbled and tossed restlessly.

"I'm sure you will be much better when we get to San Juan," affirmed Cora. "The sea voyage will do you good, and then down there it will be such a change for you."

"I suppose it will," assented her brother. "But just now I don't feel energetic enough even to head a rescue party for Senor Ralcanto."

That remark seemed very serious to Cora, for her brother was of a lively and daring disposition, always the leader in any pranks. Now, his very listlessness told how strong a hold, or, rather, lack of hold, his nerves had on him.

"Never mind," said Cora cheerfully. "Once we get started, and with Wally, Bess and Belle to cheer you up, I'm sure you'll be much better."

"Anything for a change," again assented Jack, without enthusiasm.

Arrangements were rapidly being made. The Kimball and Robinson homes in Chelton would be closed for, the winter, for the families planned to stay in the West Indies until spring should have again brought forth the North into its green attire. Walter Pennington had agreed to stay as long as Jack did, and Mrs. Kimball, being of independent means, as were Mr. and Mrs. Robinson, could prolong their cruise indefinitely, if they so desired.

As for the girls, it was like standing on the threshold of a new wonderland. They did not know all the wonders they were about to see, nor did they dream of all the strange experiences and adventures in which they, would play an active part.

Inez had communicated with the few distant friends she had in New York, telling them of her great joy in being able to get back to Sea Horse Island. And her father, too, might find happiness in release from his political prison.

The Spanish girl would go as a maid and companion to Mrs. Kimball, and Inez rejoiced in her new duties. Cora's mother declared Inez was a jewel.

The papers that it was hoped would free Mr. Ralcanto were carefully concealed for taking with the party, for, though Jack and Walter scoffed at the idea of anyone daring to try to get them, Mr. Robinson was not so sanguine.

"Down there conditions are very different from up here," he said. "They haven't the same wholesome regard for law--or, rather, they take it into their own hands, as suits their fancy. And if any one of the political party opposed to Mr. Ralcanto, was to see a chance, even up north here, I don't doubt but that he'd take it, and make off with the papers.

"Of course we might manage to do without them, but there is no use running unnecessary risks. So I'll just put them where they won't find them in a hurry."

A search had been made in Chelton for the mysterious man who had tried to make off with Inez's valise, but all trace of him was lost. He might have been merely a passing tramp.

The girls were in a constant flutter of excitement. There was so much to do, and so many new garments to secure. The two motor cars were kept in constant use, Bess, Belle and Cora darting back and forth in their respective houses, or to the Chelton shops. Occasionally they made a trip to New York for something which simply could not properly be had at the home stores.

As for Jack and Walter, they declared that they we're ready to start on ten minutes notice.

"All we have to do is to chuck a few things in a suit case, and buy our tickets," Walter declared. "I always carry a tooth brush with me."

"Wonderful--marvelous!" mocked Bess.

"Superior creatures--aren't they?" suggested Cora, smiling.

And so the preparations went on. The party was to sail in a fruit steamer from New York, and would land at San Juan, where Mr. Robinson had engaged rooms at the best hotel. He expected to do considerable business there, but future plans were not all settled.

"At any rate, we'll have a most glorious time!" declared Bess, "and I'm sure it will do Jack good."

"I think its done him some good already just thinking about it," replied Cora. "Though he declares that he doesn't care much, one way or the other. It isn't like Jack to be thus indifferent."

"He doesn't seem so very indifferent--just now," commented. Belle, dryly. "He and Walter are trying to explain to Inez how a motor car works and I do believe Jack is holding her hand much longer than he needs, to in showing her how the gears are shifted."

The three girls--Cora and her chums--were in Cora's room, making a pretense at packing. They could look down to the drive at the side of the house--where Jack's car stood after a little run. As Belle had said, Jacks indifference seemed partially to have vanished. For he was enthusiastic in imparting some information to Inez.

As I have explained, the position of the pretty Spanish girl was much different from that of an ordinary servant. She was more like a companion. And, now that a rest and good food had rounded out her hollow cheeks, she was distinctively pretty, with that rather bold and handsome type of beauty for which the southern women are so noted. Jack and Walter both seemed much impressed. The girls were not jealous--at least not yet--of Inez.

Inez was so delighted with the prospect of getting back to her own island, and with the chance of helping free her father, that it is doubtful if she looked upon Jack and Walter with any more seeing eyes than those which she would have directed to small boys at their play. She liked them. She liked them to show her about the automobile, and she laughed frankly with them--but she was totally ingenuous.

"And she could be so--so dangerous--if she chose," murmured Belle.

"What do you mean?" asked Cora.

"I mean--with her languorous," was the murmured reply.

Cora looked sharply at her chum, but said nothing.

The last gown had been delivered, and the trunks needed but the straps around them to close their lids. The Chelton houses had been put in readiness for their lonely winter, and already the tang of frost in the late October air had brought the advance message of Jack Frost.

Some few purchases remained for Mrs. Robinson and Mrs. Kimball to make, but these were deferred until the trip to New York to take the steamer. They would remain a day or so in the metropolis before sailing.

"One last run in our cars, and then well put them away," suggested Cora to her chums.

"We'll come along," Jack invited himself and Walter.

They had a glorious day in the open. Then the gasoline tanks were emptied, the radiators drained, and the cars put away in the garage.

"I do hope we can do some motor boating down there," said Jack, with something like a return of his former interest.

"We shall, I'm sure," said Bess. "'They say it is ideal for the sport there."

Inez had sent word to her father that an attempt would be made to free him. That is, she had sent the message. Whether it would reach him or not was another question, for his political enemies had him pretty well hedged about.

New York was no novelty to our friends, for they often ran in during the winter. The days there were busy ones, and passed quickly.

Their luggage was put aboard the steamer, the last purchases had been made, and now they were ready themselves to walk up the gang-plank.

"Well, girls, are you all ready to leave?" asked Mr. Robinson, as he came on deck.

"All ready--for waters blue!" half chanted Cora.

"Inez," she asked, "would you mind going down and seeing if mother has everything she wants?"

"I go, Senorita," murmured the Spanish girl. As she turned to make her way to Mrs. Kimball's stateroom, Inez started and drew back at the sight of a very fat man just coming aboard. "Zat man! Here!" she gasped, and Cora turned to see Inez shrink out of sight behind one of the lifeboats.