That evening the secretary of the Aëro Club telephoned Mr. Cumberford to ask if he wished to withdraw his entry from contest in the coming aviation meet.
“By no means,” was the reply.
“But you state that Kane is to be the aviator, and we are informed that Kane has a broken leg.”
“Leave the entry as it stands: ‘Kane, Aviator,’” said Cumberford, positively.
“Very well, sir,” returned the secretary, evidently puzzled.
But his friend Burthon, who had suggested his telephoning, was highly pleased when he learned Mr. Cumberford’s decision.
“All right,” he observed, with satisfaction; “we’ll leave the Kane Aircraft on the programme, for everyone is talking of the wonderful device and the announcement of its competition will be the greatest drawing card we have. But the entry of ‘Kane, Aviator’ will disqualify anyone but Kane from operating the aircraft, and I happen to know 156his leg is in a plaster cast and he cannot use it for months to come.”
“Won’t it hurt us to disqualify the Kane Aircraft and have it withdrawn at the last moment?” inquired the secretary, doubtfully.
“No; for I’m going to spring on the crowd the biggest surprise of the century—Burthon’s Biplane.”
“Are you sure of its success, sir?”
“Absolutely. Kane copied his machine from mine, as I have before explained to you, and in addition to all the good points he has exhibited I have the advantage of a perfect automatic balance. If Kane’s device had been equipped with it he wouldn’t have fallen the other day.”
Perhaps Mr. Burthon was sincere in saying this. He had had no opportunity to examine Stephen’s latest creation at close quarters, but on the day of the trial at Kane Park he had observed the fact that Stephen had abandoned the automatic balance he had first patented, and now had recourse to crossed planes. Both Burthon and his mechanics considered the original device the best and most practical, and they depended upon it for the biggest advertisement of Burthon’s Improved Biplane, having of course no hint that Stephen had tested it and found it sadly lacking.
On the 26th the Burthon flyer was ready for 157trial, and Tot Tyler, after several attempts, got it into the air and made a short flight that filled the heart of Mr. Burthon with elation.
“Curtiss and the Wrights will do better than that, though,” observed the ex-chauffeur, “to say nothing of those daredevils Latham and Hoxsey. I’ll improve after a few more trials, but I can’t promise ever to do better than the other fellows do.”
“That isn’t to be expected,” returned Burthon. “I’m not backing you to excel the performances of the old aviators; that isn’t my point. The improvements and novelties we have to show will take the wind out of the sails of all other aëroplanes and result in a flood of orders. Comparing machine for machine, we’re years in advance of the Wrights and Curtiss—and centuries ahead of those foreign devices.”
“Perhaps,” admitted Tot. “But Kane’s aëroplane is practically the same as your own, and it is still on the programme.”
“It won’t fly, though,” declared Burthon, with a laugh. “Don’t worry about anything but your own work, Tyler. Leave all the rest to me.”
The man knew his employer was playing a hazardous game and that he had stolen outright the Kane Aircraft, and while the knowledge did not add to Tot Tyler’s nerve or assurance he was gleeful 158over the prospect of “doing” his enemy, Cumberford. The little fellow was bold enough—even to the point of bravery—and fully as unprincipled as his employer. His hatred of Cumberford was so acrid that he would have gone to any length, even without pay, to defeat his plans, and Burthon found him an eager and willing tool. Nevertheless, the little man scented danger ahead of them and had an idea that trouble was brewing from some unknown source.
By this time Burthon had begun a campaign of widespread publicity, and in spite of the long list of famous aviators in the city the newspapers were filled with pictures of the Burthon device and accounts of the marvelous flights of Totham Tyler. Nothing more was heard of the Kane Aircraft, but the public had not forgotten it and many were puzzled that two local aëroplane makers should be exhibiting identically the same improvements, each claiming to have originated them. As for the visiting aviators, they were interested, but held their peace. The performances at the coming competition would tell the story of supremacy, and whatever good points were displayed by the local inventors could doubtless be adapted to their own craft. They waited, therefore, for proof of the glowing claims made in the newspapers. Many promising inventions have turned out to be failures.
159The public was, to an extent, in the same doubting mood. Kane’s magnificent public flight had ended with an accident, while Tyler’s preliminary exhibitions were in no way remarkable as compared with records already established. The meet would tell the story.
Meantime Orissa completed her repairs. On the day that Steve came home from the hospital in an ambulance she wheeled him in an invalid chair to the hangar and allowed the boy to inspect a perfect aircraft. The young man suffered no pain, and although he was physically helpless his eye and brain were as keen as ever. Being wheeled around the device, so that he could observe it from all sides and at all angles, he made a thorough examination of his sister’s work and declared it excellent.
“Think you can manage it, Ris?” he asked, referring to her proposed venture.
“I am sure I can,” she promptly replied. “You must understand—all of you,” turning to confront Mr. Cumberford and Sybil, who were present, “that I am not undertaking this flight from choice. Had Steve been able to exhibit his own aëroplane I might never have tried to fly alone; but it seems to me that our fortune, my brother’s future career, and our friend Mr. Cumberford’s investment, all hinge upon our making a good 160showing at Dominguez Field. No one but me is competent to properly exhibit the aircraft, to show all its good points and prove what it is capable of doing. Therefore I have undertaken to save our reputation and our money, and I am sure that my decision is proper and right.”
“I agree with you,” said Steve, eagerly. “You’re a brave little girl, Ris.”
“I have but one request to make, Mr. Cumberford,” she added.
“What is it, Orissa?” he inquired.
“Do not advertise me as ‘The Girl Aviator,’ or by any other such name. I prefer people should remain ignorant of the fact that a girl is operating the Kane Aircraft. Can’t you keep quiet about it?”
“I can, and will,” he asserted. “Indeed, my dear, I much prefer that course. It will be all the more interesting when—when—the discovery is made.”
“I do not wish to become a celebrity,” she said, seriously. “One in the family is enough,” glancing proudly at Steve, “and I’m afraid nice people would think me unmaidenly and bold to become a public aviator. I’m not at all freakish—indeed, I’m not!—and only stern necessity induces me to face this ordeal.”
“My dear,” said Mr. Cumberford, looking at 161her admiringly, “your feelings shall be considered in every possible way. But you must not imagine you are the first female aviator. In Europe—especially in France—a score of women have made successful flights, and not one is considered unwomanly or has forfeited any claim to the world’s respect and applause.”
“The most successful aviators of the future,” remarked Stephen, thoughtfully, “are bound to be women. As a rule they are lighter than men, more supple and active, quick of perception and less liable to lose their heads in emergencies. The operation of an aëroplane is, it seems to me, especially fitted to women.”
“Ah!” exclaimed Sybil, with a whimsical glance at the speaker, “I have discovered my future vocation. I shall aviate parties of atmospheric tourists. When the passenger airships are introduced I’ll become the original sky motoress, and so win fame and fortune.”
Steve laughed, but shook his head.
“The airship of the future will not be a passenger affair,” he predicted, “but an individual machine for personal use. They’ll be cheaper than automobiles, and more useful, for they can go direct to their destination in a straight ‘air-line.’ Men will use them to go to business, women to visit town on shopping expeditions or to 162take an airing for pleasure; but I’m sure they will be built for but one person.”
“Then I’ll have one and become a free lance in the sky, roaming where I will,” declared Sybil.
This unconventional girl had developed a decided fancy for the inventor, and while in his presence it was noticed that she became less reserved and mysterious than at other times. Steve liked Sybil, too, although she was so strong a contrast to his own beautiful sister. When she cared to be agreeable Miss Cumberford proved interesting and was, Steve thought, “good company.” Orissa observed that Sybil invariably presented the best side of her character to Steve. While he was in the hospital the girl visited him daily, and now that he had come home again she passed most of her time at the hangar.
Mr. Cumberford was greatly annoyed to learn that the Kane headquarters at Dominguez Field had been given a location in the rear of all the others, where it would be practically unnoticed. Of course this slight was attributed to Burthon’s influence with the committee of arrangements, of which he was a member. Burthon’s own hangar, on the contrary, had a very prominent position. From his man Brewster, as well as from others, Mr. Cumberford also learned that Burthon had hinted he would prevent the Kane Aircraft from taking any part in the contests.
163All these things worried the Kane party, whose anxieties would have been sufficient had they not been forced to encounter the petty malice of Burthon. Sybil, silently listening to all that was said, assumed a more mysterious air than usual, and on the day previous to the opening of the great aviation meet she informed her father that she would not accompany him to Dominguez, where he was bound to attend to all final preparations. The decision surprised him, but being accustomed to his daughter’s sudden whims he made no reply and left her in their rooms at the hotel.