Meantime Orissa was having a hard time at the office endeavoring to avoid a personal conversation with Mr. Burthon. When he came in at nine o’clock he smiled upon her and asked:
“Anything to tell me, Miss Kane?”
She shook her head, flushing a little, and he went to his desk without another word. He seemed abstracted and moody during the forenoon—a return of his old puzzling manner—and Orissa regretted she had not been brave enough to tell him of their decision to reject his offer when he gave her the opportunity.
Nothing more passed between them until after luncheon, but when she reëntered the office Mr. Burthon, who had not gone out, suddenly roused himself and said:
“Come here, please, Miss Kane.”
She obeyed, meekly seating herself in the chair beside his desk.
The man looked at her a long time; not impudently, with direct gaze, but rather speculatively 90and with an expression that seemed to penetrate far beyond her and to consider many things beside her fair face. Finally he asked:
“What conclusion have you reached in regard to your financial matters, of which we spoke Saturday?”
“I’ve talked with my brother, sir, and he dislikes to give up a half interest in his invention.”
“Did you tell him I would furnish all the money that might be required?”
“And he refused?”
“This aëroplane is very dear to my brother, Mr. Burthon. He cannot bear to transfer a part ownership to another, who would have the right to dictate its future.”
“Pshaw!” exclaimed the broker, impatiently; “the boy’s a fool. There’s scarcely an inventor in the world who hasn’t had to sacrifice an interest in his creation in order to raise money.”
“Stephen won’t do it,” declared Orissa, positively, for she resented the speech.
Mr. Burthon fell silent, drumming on the desk with his fingers, as he always did when in deep thought. Orissa started to rise, thinking the interview closed.
“Wait a moment, please,” he said. “How old are you, Miss Kane?—your name is Orissa, isn’t it?”
91“Yes, sir. I am seventeen.”
“So young! Why, you ought to be in school, instead of at work.”
She made no reply. He watched her awhile, as she sat before him with bent head, and then continued, in the kindly tone he so often used when addressing her:
“Miss Kane—Orissa—I will give your brother all the money he needs, and he may retain the entire interest in his airship. The payment may come from you alone.”
She started and became alert at once, raising her head to look at him inquiringly.
“In other words,” he added, “I’m not especially interested in your brother or his invention; but I am greatly interested in you.”
“Mr. Burthon, I—”
“Listen to me, Orissa, and let me explain. I’m a lonely man, for I have never married—or cared to. You are the only member of the fair sex who has ever attracted me except my sister, whom I regarded with warm affection. When she married that scoundrel Cumberford we became separated forever, and in a few years she died. Since then I have thought of nothing but business. I am now thirty-eight years of age, and in my prime. I have amassed a fortune—something more than a quarter of a million, as you know—and have no 92one to leave it to when I pass away. I should like to leave it to you, Orissa.”
“To me, sir!” she exclaimed, amazed.
“Yes. Your presence here in the office has transformed the place from a barren den to a cozy, homelike apartment. I like to see your sweet face near me, gravely bending over your work. Your personality has charmed me; your lack of affectation, your sincerity and honesty, have won my admiration. I cannot say to you, as a younger man would, that I love you, for I will not take an unfair advantage of one who is as yet a child. But you will become a woman soon, and I want to make you a splendid woman—and a happy one. This is my proposition: place yourself in my hands unreservedly, and let me direct your future. I will send you to a famous finishing school in the East and supply you with a liberal allowance. In two years you will return to me, old enough to become my wife.”
“Oh, Mr. Burthon!”
“Meantime I’ll finance your brother’s airship proposition until it either fails or finally succeeds.”
Orissa was greatly distressed. She felt at the moment like giving way to a flood of tears, for she realized that this absurd, astonishing proposal would deprive her of her position. He saw her 93agitation and felt intuitively she would not consider his offer. So he said, with grim insistence:
“You may answer me with one word, my child; yes or no.”
“Oh, Mr. Burthon, it is impossible! I have a home, a mother and brother, and—I—I could not think of such a thing.”
“Not to save those relatives from disaster—from misery—from ruin, perhaps?”
The implied threat hardened her heart, which had begun to pity the man.
“Not even to save them from death!” she replied firmly.
“Am I so distasteful to you, then? Is my money of so little account?”
With cold dignity Orissa rose from her chair. He saw the look on her face and became a little alarmed.
“Please forget all I have said,” he added, hastily. “I—I am not myself to-day. You may get the mail ready, Miss Kane, and I will sign the letters before I go.”
She went to the wardrobe and took down her things. He sat silently watching her as she put them on, a slight frown upon his face. The girl hesitated a moment, then walked straight to his desk and said:
“Of course I cannot stay here a moment after 94what you have said. But I think you—you meant to be good to me—in your way. Good-bye, Mr. Burthon.”
“Good-bye, Miss Kane.”
His voice was cold and hard. She did not look at him again, but walked out of the office and quietly left the building, so she did not see that the frown had deepened to a scowl, nor hear him mutter:
“Both lost—the girl and the aëroplane! But I’ll have them yet, for the Kanes are too simple to oppose me successfully.”
At three o’clock Orissa surprised Steve by coming into the hangar in her working dress.
“Why, what’s the matter, Ris?” he demanded.
“I’ve left Mr. Burthon,” she said quietly.
Orissa thought it unwise to tell her brother all that had transpired.
“He was angry because we refused to give him a half interest in the aircraft,” she explained. “So I simply quit and came home.”
Steve sat down and stared at her a moment. He had been thinking of Mr. Cumberford’s warning ever since that strange individual had gone away, and Orissa’s “resignation” afforded him distinct relief.
“I’m glad of it, Ris,” he said, earnestly. 95“There’s no necessity for you to work now, for we have plenty of money to see us through. Besides, I need you here to assist me.”
“It’s a fact. I don’t like to employ outside assistance at this stage of the game; it might be fatal. But you are nearly as well posted on aëroplanes as I am, Orissa, and you’re clever enough to be of real help to me. I don’t need brute strength, you know.”
“Why, I’m terribly strong!” she said with a gay laugh, baring her round arm and bending her elbow to show how the muscle bunched up. “I can lift as much as you can, Steve, if it is necessary.”
“It won’t be necessary,” replied her brother, delighted to find how easily she adopted his suggestion. “Just grab the end of that bow and hold it steady while I shave a point to it. That’s it. Don’t you see how awkward it is for me to handle these things alone?”
“You’re right, Steve. I’ll stay at home and help you finish the aircraft,” said she.