The Flying Girl

by L. Frank Baum

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Chapter VI - A Bucking Biplane

Stephen Kane had scarcely slept a wink for three nights. When Orissa came home Thursday evening he met her at the car with the news that his aëroplane was complete.

“I’ve been adjusting it and testing the working parts all the afternoon,” he said, his voice tense with effort to restrain his excitement, “and I’m ready for the trial whenever you say.”

“All right, Steve,” she replied briskly; “it begins to be daylight at about half past four, this time of year; shall we make the trial at that hour to-morrow morning?”

“I couldn’t wait longer than that,” he admitted, pressing her arm as they walked along. “My idea is to take it into old Marston’s pasture.”

“Isn’t the bull there?” she inquired.

“Not now. Marston has kept the bull shut up the past few days. And it’s the best place for the trial, for there’s lots of room.”

56“Let’s take a look at it, Steve!” she said, hastening her steps.

In the big, canvas covered shed reposed the aëroplane, its spreading white sails filling the place almost to the very edges. It was neither a monoplane nor a biplane, according to accepted ideas of such machines, but was what Steve called “a story-and-a-half flyer.”

“That is, I hope it’s a flyer,” he amended, while Orissa stared with admiring eyes, although she already knew every stick and stitch by heart.

“Of course it’s a flyer!” she exclaimed. “I wouldn’t be afraid to mount to the moon in that airship.”

“All that witches need is a broomstick,” he said playfully. “But perhaps you’re not that sort of a witch, little sister.”

“What shall we call it, Steve?” she asked, seriously. “Of course it’s a biplane, because there are really two planes, one being above the other; but it is not in the same class with other biplanes. We must have a distinctive name for it.”

“I’ve thought of calling it the ‘Kane Aircraft,’” he answered. “How does that strike you?”

“It has an original sound,” Orissa said. “Oh, Steve! couldn’t we try it to-night? It’s moonlight.”

57He shook his head quickly, smiling at her enthusiasm.

“I’m afraid not. You’re tired, and have the dinner to get and the day’s dishes to wash and put away. As for me, I’m so dead for sleep I can hardly keep my eyes open. I must rest, so as to have a clear head for to-morrow’s flight.”

“Shall we say anything to mother about it?”

“Why need we? It would only worry the dear woman unnecessarily. Whether I succeed or fail in this trial, it will be time enough to break the news to her afterward.”

Orissa agreed with this. Mrs. Kane knew the airship was nearing completion but was not especially interested in the venture. It seemed wonderful to her that mankind had at last learned how to fly, and still more wonderful that her own son was inventing and building an improved appliance for this purpose; but so many marvelous things had happened since she became blind that her mind was to an extent inured to astonishment and she had learned to accept with calm complacency anything she could not comprehend.

Brother and sister at last tore themselves away from the fascinating creation and returned to the house, where Steve, thoroughly exhausted, fell asleep in his chair while Orissa was preparing dinner. He went to bed almost immediately after 58he had eaten and his sister also retired when her mother did, which was at an early hour.

But Orissa could not sleep. She lay and dreamed of the great triumph before them; of the plaudits of enraptured spectators; of Stephen’s name on every tongue in the civilized world; and, not least by any means, of the money that would come to them. No longer would the Kanes have to worry over debts and duebills; the good things of the world would be theirs, all won by her brother’s cleverness.

If she slept at all before the gray dawn stole into the sky the girl was not aware of it. By half past four she had smoking hot coffee ready for Steve and herself and after hastily drinking it they rushed to the hangar.

Steve was bright and alert this morning and declared he had “slept like a log.” He slid the curtains away from the front of the shed and solemnly the boy and girl wheeled the big aëroplane out into the garden. By careful manipulation they steered it between the trees and away to the fence of Marston’s pasture, which adjoined their own premises at the rear. To get it past the fence had been Steve’s problem, and he had arranged to take out a section of the fencing big enough to admit his machine. This was now but a few minutes’ work, and presently the aëroplane was on the smooth turf of the pasture.

59They were all alone. There were no near neighbors, and it was early for any to be astir.

“One of the most important improvements I have made is my starting device,” said Steve, as he began a last careful examination of his aircraft. “All others have a lot of trouble in getting started. The Wright people erect a tower and windlass, and nearly every other machine uses a track.”

“I know,” replied Orissa. “I have seen several men holding the thing back until the motors got well started and the propellers were whirling at full speed.”

“That always struck me as a crude arrangement,” observed her brother. “Now, in this machine I start the motor whirling an eccentric of the same resisting power as the propeller, yet it doesn’t affect the stability of the aëroplane. When I’m ready to start I throw in a clutch that instantly transfers the power from the eccentric to the propeller—and away I go like a rocket.”

As he spoke he kissed his sister and climbed to the seat.

“Are you afraid, Steve?” she whispered, her beautiful face flushed and her eyes bright with excitement.

“Afraid! Of my own machine? Of course not.”

60“Don’t go very high, dear.”

“We’ll see. I want to give it a thorough test. All right, Ris; I’m off!”

The motors whirred, steadily accelerating speed while the aëroplane trembled as if eager to dart away. Steve threw in the clutch; the machine leaped forward and ran on its wheels across the pasture like a deer, but did not rise.

He managed to stop at the opposite fence and when Orissa came running up, panting, her brother sat in his place staring stupidly ahead.

“What’s wrong, Steve?”

He rubbed his head and woke up.

“The forward elevator, I guess. But I’m sure I had it adjusted properly.”

He got down and examined the rudder, giving it another upward tilt.

“Now I’ll try again,” he said cheerfully.

They turned the aircraft around and he made another start. This time Orissa was really terrified, for the thing acted just like a bucking broncho. It rose to a height of six feet, dove to the ground, rose again to plunge its nose into the turf and performed such absurd, unexpected antics that Steve had to cling on for dear life. When he finally managed to bring it to a halt the rudder was smashed and two ribs of the lower plane splintered.

61They looked at the invention with dismay, both silent for a time.

“Of course,” said Steve, struggling to restrain his disappointment, “we couldn’t expect it to be perfect at the first trial.”

“No,” agreed Orissa, faintly.

“But it ought to fly, you know.”

“Being a flying machine, it ought to,” she said. “Can you mend it, Steve?”

“To be sure; but it will take me a little time. To-morrow morning we will try again.”

With grave faces they wheeled it back into the garden and the boy replaced the fence. Then back to the hangar, where Steve put the Kane Aircraft in its old place and drew the curtains—much as one does at a funeral.

“I’m sure to discover what’s wrong,” he told Orissa, regaining courage as they walked toward the house. “And, if I’ve made a blunder, this is the time to rectify it. To-morrow it will be sure to fly. Have faith in me, Ris.”

“I have,” she replied simply. “I’ll go in and get breakfast now.”

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