The Flying Girl

by L. Frank Baum

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Chapter XXIV - The Criminal

As soon as Sybil reached her room at the hotel she wrote a line to her uncle, Mr. Burthon, which said: “I have wired to Baltimore.” Summoning a messenger she instructed him to search for Mr. Burthon until he found him and then place the message in his hands. She delayed sending the telegram just then, but was so angry and indignant that she was fully resolved to do so during the evening.

Meantime Orissa, who to an extent had recovered from her excitement, was being petted by the family party in the sitting room that had been reserved for them. Poor Mrs. Kane, having hugged and kissed her child and wept over her terrible danger and miraculous escape, now held the girl’s hand fast in her own and could not bear to let it go. Stephen was full of eager praise and, ignoring for the time the final incident of the flight, led Orissa to talk of her aërial exhibition and the admirable behavior of the aircraft, together 203with its perfect adjustment and obedience under all conditions.

“You’ve won the prize, dear,” he asserted confidently. “No one else did half as much or did it as well, to say nothing of your skillful dodging of that scoundrel Tyler. But I can’t let you make another flight, little sister. You are too precious to us all for us to let you risk your life in this way. The aircraft will have to stand by its record for that one flight—at least for this meet.”

“Oh, no,” protested Orissa; “I’ll go again to-morrow, Steve. I want to. The sensation is glorious, and I’m sure that monster, Tyler—or his master, Burthon—will be unable to get another aëroplane to chase me. I shall be perfectly safe, for your aircraft was from first to last like a thing with life and intelligence. I understand it, and it understands me.”

“I wonder if Burthon really sent Tyler on that murderous errand,” said Steve, thoughtfully.

“Of course he did!” declared Mr. Cumberford, entering the room in time to hear the remark. “Here’s a letter for you, Orissa, just left at the office, and I’m pretty sure it’s Burthon’s handwriting.”

Orissa took the letter, opened it, and read aloud:

“Do not, I beg of you, my dear Orissa, accuse me of inciting that fool Tyler’s mad 204attack upon your aëroplane. The man stole the machine from its hangar and, crazed by my withdrawal from the meet, which deprived him of the chance of becoming famous, and inspired by anger toward Cumberford, who had at one time maliciously assaulted him and whom he thought responsible for my withdrawal, he made a desperate attempt to wreck your aëroplane without knowing who was operating it. As soon as I found my machine gone I hurried to Dominguez and arrived in time to see the terrible result of Tyler’s madness and your noble rescue of him. I am leaving the city to-night and may never see your sweet face again, but I do not wish you to misjudge me and have, therefore, made this explanation, which is honest and sincere. I trust you will remember me only as a true and loyal friend who would willingly sacrifice his unhappy life to save you from harm. Now and always faithfully yours,

“George Burthon.”

During the reading Sybil had entered and quietly seated herself, listening with lip scornfully curled to her uncle’s protestations of innocence. For a moment after Orissa finished the letter all were silent. Then said Orissa, gently:

205“I’m so glad Mr. Burthon had no hand in it!”

“Bah!” sneered Cumberford; “Burthon is a liar. I don’t believe a word of his lame excuse.”

“Nor I,” added Stephen, gravely. “Tyler is a hired assassin, that’s all. I think Burthon is frightened, and wishes to throw us off the track and put the blame on his tool, before running away.”

“I hope that is a lie, too—about his running away,” said Mr. Cumberford. “If Burthon escapes scot-free I shall be greatly disappointed. But the fellow is so tricky that if he says he is going you may rest assured he means to stay.”

“I think not, Daddy,” remarked Sybil, in her cold, even tones. “My uncle is in earnest this time and I doubt if you ever see or hear of George Burthon again.”

A knock at the door startled the little group. Mr. Cumberford stepped forward and opened it to find a tall, blue-eyed young man standing in the hall. He recognized Mr. Radley-Todd—the Tribune reporter—at once, and said stiffly:

“You are intruding, sir. I left word at the office that Miss Kane and I would see the newspaper men at eight o’clock, but not before.”

He started to close the door, but Chesty Todd inserted one long leg into the opening, smiling pleasantly as he said:

206“This isn’t a newspaper errand; let me in.”

Mr. Cumberford let him in, throwing wide the door, for there was an earnest ring in the young fellow’s voice that could not be denied.

After Chesty Todd had entered, stumbling over the rug and bowing low to the ladies, another form shuffled silently through the doorway in his wake—a little, dried-up, withered man with tousled hair, his cap under his arm, a woebegone and hopeless expression on his leathery face.

“Tyler!” cried a surprised chorus.

The ex-chauffeur did not acknowledge the greeting. Chesty, extending one arm toward the man as if he were exhibiting a trained animal, said sternly:

“Down on your knees!”

Tyler bumped his kneecaps upon the floor in an attitude of meek humiliation.

“Now, then!”

“M-m-m—pardon,” gurgled the little chauffeur, not with contrition but rather as an enforced plea for mercy.

Chesty kicked his shins.

“Get up,” he commanded.

Tyler slowly rose, surveyed the group stealthily from beneath his brows and then dropped his eyes again, standing with bowed shoulders before them and nervously twirling his cap in his hands.

207“Here,” announced Chesty, pointing impressively to the culprit, “stands the murderous ruffian known to infamy as Totham Tyler. He is at your mercy, prepared to endure any amount of torture or to die ignominiously at the hands of those he has wronged.”

All but Mrs. Kane were staring in amazement first at Tyler, then at his captor. Said Stephen to the latter, curiously:

“You are a detective, I suppose!”

“Merely as a side line,” was the cheerful rejoinder. “Primarily I’m a newspaper reporter, and whenever I strike for a higher salary they tell me I’m a mighty poor journalist. Let me introduce myself. My name is Havely Chesterton Radley-Todd, quite a burden to carry but it all belongs to me. This is my first experience as an imitator of the late lamented Sherlock Holmes, and I may point with pride to the fact that I’ve unraveled the supposed plot to murder Miss Orissa Kane.”

Tyler growled incoherently.

“True,” said Chesty, looking at the man thoughtfully; “the plot was not to murder Miss Kane, but Mr. Cumberford, whom his loving brother-in-law supposed would operate the Kane aeroplane. Incidentally it was planned to so wreck the aircraft—is that what you call it?—that 208it would be out of commission during the rest of the meet.”

“Why?” asked Stephen.

“To satisfy his petty malice. If Burthon couldn’t fly he didn’t want you to fly, and he hoped to obtain revenge for being driven into exile.”

There was a murmur of surprise at this.

“Who drove Burthon into exile?” asked Cumberford.

“I did,” said Sybil, indifferently.

“Have you seen him, then?” demanded her father.

“Oh, yes; but my uncle is unreliable. Before he obeyed my command to leave this country forever he decided on a final coup, which has fortunately failed.”

“Burthon,” announced Chesty Todd, “boarded an east-bound train an hour ago. I tried to head him off, but he was too slick and escaped me. That is the reason I am now here. I want you to listen to Totham Tyler’s story and then decide whether to wire ahead and have Burthon arrested or let the matter drop. It is really up to you, as the interested parties. So far the police have not had a hand in the game.”

“Please sit down, Mr. Todd,” requested Orissa, shyly. In the tall youth she had recognized the 209man who had tried to warn her on Dominguez Field, and was grateful to him.

Chesty bowed and sat down. Then he turned to his prisoner and said:

“Fire away, Tyler. Tell the whole story—the truth and nothing but the truth so help you.”

Tyler opened his mouth with effort, mumbled and gurgled a moment and then looked at his captor appealingly.

“Oh; very well. The criminal, ladies and gentlemen, seems to have lost, in this crisis, the power of expressing himself. So I shall relate to you the story, just as I extracted it—by slow and difficult processes—from the prisoner in my room, a short time ago. If I make any mistakes he will correct me.”

Tyler seemed much relieved.

“This creature,” began Chesty, “has previous to this eventful day been known to mankind as a good chauffeur and a bad citizen. He was employed by Burthon as an unscrupulous tool, his chief recommendation being a deadly hatred of Mr. Cumberford, who at one time indelicately applied the toe of his boot to a tender part of Mr. Tyler’s anatomy. Burthon also hated Cumberford, for robbing him of a million or so in a mine deal, and for other things of which I am not informed—or Tyler, either. Cumberford owns a 210controlling interest in the Kane Aircraft, and—”

“That’s wrong,” interrupted Stephen.

“I imagine Mr. Tyler’s story is wrong in many ways,” returned Mr. Radley-Todd, composedly. “I am merely relating it as I heard it.”

“Go on, sir.”

“Cumberford had also maligned Mr. Burthon to Miss Orissa Kane, a young lady for whom Burthon entertained a fatherly interest and a—er—hum—a platonic affection. Is that right, Tyler?”

Tyler growled.

“Therefore Burthon decided to get even with Cumberford, and Tyler agreed to help him. The first plan was to steal the design of Stephen Kane’s airship and by cleverly heading him off in some aëro-political manner put the firm of Cumberford & Kane out of business. This scheme was approaching successful fruition when a saucy, impudent schoolgirl—Tyler’s description, not mine—appeared on the scene and spiked Mr. Burthon’s guns. Burthon explained to Tyler that in bygone days he had saved his sister, Cumberford’s wife, from going to prison for a crime Cumberford had urged her to commit, but in doing this he had been obliged to defy the law, and the officers are unfortunately still on the generous 211man’s trail. Cumberford’s daughter, knowing the situation, threatened to have Burthon arrested—to betray him to the bloodhounds of the cruel law—unless he withdrew his machine from the aviation meet and made tracks for pastures new.”

The Kanes were now regarding Sybil with amazement and her father with suspicion if not distrust. The girl stared back at them haughtily; Cumberford shrugged his shoulders and stroked his drooping, grizzled mustache. Chesty Todd, observing this pantomime, laughed pleasantly.

“Tyler’s story—told to me—of Burthon’s story—told to Tyler,” he observed, his eyes twinkling. “There’s pitch somewhere, and I’ve not been favorably impressed by Mr. Burthon during my slight acquaintance with him. I make it a rule,” speaking more slowly, “to judge people by their actions; by what they do, rather than by what people say of them. Judging Burthon by his actions I should have little confidence in what he says.”

“You are quite right,” declared Stephen, eagerly. “I’ll guarantee, if necessary, that Burthon lied about both Mr. Cumberford and his daughter. No man ever had a truer friend than Mr. Cumberford has been to me.”

Cumberford scowled; Sybil gave Steve one of her rare smiles.

212“Anyhow,” continued the narrator, “Tyler was in despair because the aëroplane he was booked to operate was withdrawn from the meet. Burthon told him if they wanted revenge they must act quickly. Their sources of information—erroneous, as the event proved—led them to believe their enemy Cumberford would fly the rival aëroplane, and Tyler needed little urging to induce him to undertake to wreck it. Burthon paid him a thousand dollars in advance, to make the attempt, and promised him four thousand more if he succeeded.”

“Five more,” growled Tyler.

“I stand corrected; but it won’t matter. Tyler made the attempt, as you know. He had no idea Miss Kane was in the airship he was trying to demolish until the last moment, when by a clever turn he intercepted her aëroplane and was on the point of running it down. Just then, to his horror and dismay, he saw the girl plainly and made a desperate effort to check the speed of his machine—to avoid running her down. That was the cause of his mishap, he claims, and his desire to save Miss Kane nearly cost him his life. While he was descending a mile or so through the air, clinging to the footrail, he fiercely repented his wicked act, so that by the time he struck the ground he was a reformed criminal, and, for the first time 213since he cut his eye teeth, an honest man. So he says, and he expects us to believe it.

“I happened to be near the spot where Tyler rolled and picked him up unconscious—dazed by his repentance, I suppose. The mob wanted to disjoint him and remove his skin, which was not a bad idea; but I decided he could be of more use to Miss Kane alive—for the present, at least—because he might untangle some threads of the mystery. So I threw him into my car, got him to my room at Mrs. Skipp’s boarding house, restored him to consciousness, applied the thumbscrews, got his deposition, lugged him here to you, and now—please have the kindness to take him off my hands, for I’m tired of him.”

Orissa laughed, a little nervously. They were all regarding Chesty with unfeigned admiration and Tyler with pronounced aversion.

Mrs. Kane was the first to speak. Said the blind woman, softly:

“Orissa, you alone can judge this man. You alone can tell whether from the beginning he knew you were in the aëroplane or whether his claim is true that he discovered your identity at the last moment—and tried to save you. If he speaks truly, if he repented at the moment and risked his life to save you, it will have a great influence upon his fate. Speak, my child; you two were together 214in the air a mile above the earth, a mile from any other human being. Does the man speak truly?”

Orissa paled; suddenly she grew grave and a frightened look crept into her clear eyes.

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