Saturday was a busy day at the office. They did not close early, but rather later than on other days, and Orissa found plenty of work to occupy her. But always there remained in her thoughts the problem of how to obtain money for Steve, and she racked her brain to find some practical solution.
Mr. Burthon was in a mellow mood to-day. Since the sale of his mining stock he had been less abstracted and moody than before, and during the afternoon, having just handed Orissa several deeds of land to copy, he noticed her pale, drawn face and said:
“You look tired, Miss Kane.”
She gave him one of her sweet, bright smiles in payment for the kindly tone.
“I am tired,” she returned. “For two mornings I have been up at four o’clock.”
“Anyone ill at home?” he asked quickly.
Suddenly it occurred to her that he might assist 72in unraveling the problem. She turned to him and said:
“Can you spare me a few minutes, Mr. Burthon? I—I want to ask your advice.”
He glanced at her curiously and sat down in a chair facing her.
“Tell me all about it,” he said encouragingly. “Not long ago it was I asking for advice, and you were good enough to favor me. Now it is logically your turn.”
“My brother,” said she, “has invented an airship.”
He gave a little start of surprise and an eager look spread over his face. Then he smiled at her tolerantly.
“All the world has gone crazy over aviation,” he remarked. “I, myself, witnessed the flights at Dominguez Field and became strongly impressed with the desire to fly. I suppose your brother contracted the fever, too, and has made a model he thinks will float in the air.”
“Oh, it is not a model,” she gravely replied. “Stephen is an expert mechanic and has worked on many of the most famous aëroplanes in the country. He has recently built a complete airship of his own, and this morning I watched him make a very successful flight in it.”
“Indeed?” he exclaimed, the eager look returning. 73“There is money in a good airship, Miss Kane. This is the psychological moment to forge ahead in aviation, which will soon become the world’s popular mode of transit. It is easy to build an airship; yes. Perhaps I could build one myself. But where many will try, many will fail.”
“And some will succeed,” she added, smiling.
He examined her expressive face with interest.
“Please tell me all about it,” said he.
So Orissa gave him the history of the aircraft, from its conception to the final triumph and wreckage and its conquest by the bull. Incidentally she told how they had mortgaged their home and the orange crop to get the needed money, and finally explained the condition they were now in—success within their grasp, but no means of taking advantage of it.
Mr. Burthon was very attentive throughout, his eyes fixed upon Orissa’s lovely face and watching its shades of anxiety and exaltation as the story progressed. While she enthusiastically described Steve’s aircraft, her eyes sparkling and a soft flush mantling her cheeks, the man scarcely heard what she said, so intent was he in admiring her. He did not permit his fair secretary to notice his mood, however, and the girl was too earnestly engaged to heed her employer’s intent gaze. At the conclusion of her story she asked:
74“Tell me, sir, is there any way in which we can raise the money required?”
Mr. Burthon roused himself and the hard business expression settled upon his features again.
“I think so,” he returned, slowly. “What your brother needs is a backer—what is called an ‘angel,’ you know—who will furnish the necessary funds for the perfection of the invention and to place it upon the market and properly exhibit it.”
“Would anyone do that?” she inquired.
“For a consideration, yes. Such a party would demand an interest in the invention, and a share of the profits.”
“How much, sir?”
“Perhaps a half interest.”
She considered this statement.
“That is too much to give away, Mr. Burthon. The aircraft is already built and tested. It is a proved success, and the best aëroplane in all the world. Why should we give a half interest in return for a little money?”
He hesitated; then replied coldly:
“Because the invention is useless without the means to publicly demonstrate it, and establish it on a paying basis. At present your airship is without the slightest commercial value. Once exploited, the half interest you retain would make your fortune.”
75Her brow wrinkled with a puzzled look.
“I’ll talk to Steve about it,” she said. “But, if he consents, where could I find such an—an ‘angel’?”
“In me,” he answered coolly. “If, on investigation, I find your brother’s airship to be one half as practical as you represent it, and doubtless believe it to be, I will deposit ten thousand dollars in the bank to exploit it—in return for a half interest—and agree to furnish more money whenever it is required.”
“Thank you, sir,” said Orissa, doubtfully. “I—I’ll talk with my brother.”
“Very well,” he replied. “But beware of confiding in strangers. I am your friend, and will guard your interests faithfully. Talk with your brother, but with no one else.”
Orissa did talk with Steve, that very evening, and the boy frowned at the suggestion just as his sister had done.
“I know that is the way business men do things,” he said, “and it’s a good deal like robbery. Burthon sees that we must have money, and he’s driving a shrewd bargain. Besides that, I’m not sure he’s honest.”
“I don’t see how he could defraud us, though,” mused Orissa. “There are two things for us to consider. One is, whether we can raise the money 76in any other way; and then, whether a half interest in a business with plenty of money behind it would not pay better than the whole thing, with a constant struggle to make both ends meet.”
“Perhaps it might,” he replied, hesitatingly. “But I’ve done all this alone, so far, and I hate to let anyone else reap the benefit of my ideas. I suppose if I had not proved the thing, but merely begun work on it, Burthon wouldn’t have invested a dollar in it.”
“I suppose not,” she agreed. “But think it over, dear. We have all day to-morrow to talk of it and consider what is best to be done. Then, when I go to the office Monday morning, I can tell Mr. Burthon our decision.”
They talked considerably more on this subject after dinner, and worried over it during a sleepless night. After breakfast on Sunday morning they went quietly to church, Mrs. Kane accompanying them, as was her custom. But Orissa had hard work to keep her mind on the service and Steve found the attempt impossible. The return home, including a long car ride, was passed in silence, and then Orissa had to busy herself over the dinner.
It was the middle of the afternoon before brother and sister found time to meet in the hangar, which was now strewn with parts of the aircraft. 77Steve looked around him gloomily and then seated himself beside Orissa upon a bench.
“I suppose we must settle this thing,” he said; “and there’s no doubt we must have money, or we shall face ruin. The thing has cost too much for us to withdraw from it without a heavy loss that would mean privation and suffering for you and mother. If we go to anyone but Burthon we may not get as good an offer as he makes, for men with money are eager to take advantage of a poor fellow in need. I can’t blame Burthon much. I don’t suppose there’s a rich man living who wouldn’t hold us up in the same selfish way. And so—”
He paused, shrugging his shoulders.
“So you think we’d better accept Mr. Burthon’s proposition and give him a half interest?” she asked.
“Beg pardon,” said a cold voice; “am I intruding?”