The Flying Girl

by L. Frank Baum

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Chapter XXVI - Of Course

Orissa did fly the next day, as she had declared she would. The morning papers were full of her achievement, with columns of enthusiastic praise for her beauty, her daring, her modesty and skill. The attempt of a rival aëroplane to interfere with her flight and her clever rescue of her enemy when he came to grief made a popular heroine of the girl, yet no one seemed to know the true history of the astonishing affair. The Tribune had glowing accounts of the day’s events from the pen of Mr. H. Chesterton Radley-Todd, but this astute correspondent refrained from making “a scoop,” as he might have done had he bared his knowledge of the conspiracy that ended with Orissa Kane’s aërial adventure.

One of the other papers suspected Burthon of being the instigator of the wicked plot to wreck Miss Kane’s airship and, discovering the fact that he had fled from the city, openly accused him. Tyler could not be found, either, for the little ex-chauffeur 223had wisely “skipped the town” and his former haunts knew him no more.

The judges awarded the Kane Aircraft the ten thousand dollar prize, and singularly enough not a word of protest came from the competing aviators. Those who had attended the meet the day before, and thousands who read of Orissa Kane in the newspapers, eagerly assembled at Dominguez to witness her further exhibitions on the next day. It was estimated that fully fifty thousand people were in attendance, and when the Kane Aircraft appeared, decked with gay banners and ribbons, and made a short flight above the field, the girl aviator met with a reception such as has never before been equaled in the annals of aviation.

Later in the day Orissa took part in the contest for speed and although she did not win this event the girl aëronaut managed her biplane so gracefully and pressed the leader in the race so closely that she was accorded the admiring plaudits of the spectators.

Steve was a little disappointed in the result, but Mr. Cumberford reminded him that his employment of crossed planes was sure to sacrifice an element of speed for the sake of safety, and assured him it was not at all necessary for his invention to excel in swiftness to win universal approval.

224In other events that followed during the progress of the meet Orissa captured several of the prizes, with the final result that the Kanes were eighteen thousand dollars richer than they had been before. Crowds constantly thronged the Kane hangar, inspecting the wonderful machine and questioning the attendants as to its construction and management, while so many orders for the aircraft were booked that Mr. Cumberford assured Stephen they would be justified in at once building a factory to supply the demand.

Throughout the meet Orissa Kane remained the popular favorite and the wonderful performances of the young girl were discussed in every place where two or more people congregated. Had Stephen been able to operate his own machine he would not have won a tithe of the enthusiastic praise accorded “The Flying Girl,” and this was so evident that Orissa was instantly recognized as the most important member of the firm.

Naturally she was overjoyed by her success, yet she never once lost her humble and unassuming manner or considered the applause in the light of a personal eulogy. Devoting herself seriously and with care to every detail of her work she strove to exhibit Steve’s aircraft in a manner to prove its excellence, and considered that her important aim.

225There was nothing reckless about Orissa’s flights; her success, then and afterward, may be attributed to her coolness of head, a thorough understanding of her machine and a full appreciation of her own ability to handle it. The flattery and adulation she received did not destroy her self-poise or cause one flutter of her heart, but when anyone praised the merits of the Kane Aircraft, she flushed with pleasure and pride. For Orissa firmly believed she basked in the reflected glory of her brother’s inventive genius, and considered herself no more than a showman employed to exhibit his marvelous creation.

“You see,” she said to Chesty Todd, who stood beside her in the hangar on the last day of the meet while she watched Mr. Cumberford and his assistants preparing the aircraft for its final flight, “Stephen has a thorough education in aëronautics and knows the caprices and requirements of the atmosphere as well as a gardener knows his earth. The machine is adjusted to all those variations and demands, and that is why it accomplishes with ease much that other aëroplanes find difficult. A child might operate the Kane Aircraft, and I feel perfectly at ease in my seat, no matter how high I am or how conflicting the air currents; for Steve’s machine will do exactly what it is built to do.”

226“The machine is good,” observed Chesty, “but your sublime self-confidence is better. You’re a conceited young lady—not over your own skill, but over that of your brother.”

She laughed.

“Haven’t I a right to be?” she asked. “Hasn’t Steve proved his ability to the world?”

The boy nodded, a bit absently. He was thinking how good it was to find a girl not wrapped up in herself, but unselfish enough to admire others at her own expense. A pretty girl, too, Chesty concluded with a sigh, as he watched her prepare to start. What a pity he had lived all of twenty-one years and had not known Orissa Kane before!

By some sleight-of-hand, perhaps characteristic of the fellow, Chesty had attached himself to the “Kane-Cumberford Combination,” as he called it, like a barnacle. At first both Steve and Cumberford frowned upon his claim to intimacy, but the boy was so frankly attracted to their camp, “where,” said he, “I can always find people of my own kind,” that they soon became resigned to the situation and accepted his presence as a matter of course.

Sybil treated this new acquaintance with the same calm indifference she displayed toward all but her father and, latterly, Stephen Kane. 227Chesty found in her the most puzzling character he had ever met, but liked her and studied the girl’s vagaries from behind a bulwark of levity and badinage. Perhaps the reporter’s most loyal friend at this time was Mrs. Kane, who had promptly endorsed the young man as a desirable acquisition to their little circle. In return Chesty was devoted to the afflicted woman and loved to pay her those little attentions she required because of her helplessness.

Mr. Cumberford celebrated the closing day of the meet by giving a little dinner to the Kanes in his private rooms at the hotel that evening, and Chesty Todd was included in the party. Stephen attended in a wheeled chair and was placed at one end of the table, while Orissa occupied the other. The central decoration was a floral model of the Kane Aircraft, and before Orissa’s plate was laid a crown of laurel which her friends tried to make her wear. But the girl positively refused, declaring that Stephen ought to wear the crown, while she was entitled to no more credit than a paid aviator might be.

The next morning’s developments, however, proved that she had been too modest in this assertion. A telegram arrived from the directors of the San Francisco Aviation Club asking Orissa Kane’s price to attend their forthcoming meet 228and exhibit her aëroplane. Accounts of her daring and successful flights had been wired to newspapers all over the world and public interest in the girl aviator was so aroused that managers of aerial exhibitions throughout the country realized she would be the greatest “drawing card” they could secure.

Mr. Cumberford, as manager for Orissa as well as for Stephen and the aircraft, telegraphed his terms, demanding so large a sum that the Kanes declared it would never be considered. To their amazement the offer was promptly accepted, and while they were yet bewildered by this evidence of popularity, a representative of the New Orleans Aëro Club called at the hotel to secure Miss Kane for their forthcoming meet. Mr. Cumberford received him cordially, but said:

“Unfortunately, sir, your dates conflict with those of the San Francisco meet, where Miss Kane has already contracted to appear.”

“Is there no way of securing her release?” asked the man, deeply chagrined at being too late. “Our people will be glad to pay any price to get her.”

“No,” replied Mr. Cumberford; “we stand by our contracts, whatever they may be. But possibly we shall be able to send you a duplicate of 229the Kane Aircraft, with a competent aviator to operate it.”

The man’s face fell.

“We will, of course, be glad to have you enter the Kane machine, on the same terms other aëroplanes are entered; but we will pay no bonus unless ‘The Flying Girl’ is herself present to exhibit it. To be quite frank with you, the people are wild to see Orissa Kane, whose exploits are on every tongue just now, but all aëroplanes look alike to them, as you can readily understand.”

When the emissary had departed, keenly disappointed, Mr. Cumberford turned to Orissa and Stephen, who had both been present at the interview, and said:

“You see, Orissa should have worn the laurel crown, after all. ‘The Flying Girl’ has caught the popular fancy and I predict our little heroine will be in great demand wherever aviation is exploited. As a matter of truth and justice I will admit that she could not have acquired fame so readily without Steve’s superb invention to back her. In coming years your principal source of income will be derived from the Kane Aircraft; but just now, while aviation is in its infancy, Orissa will be able to earn a great deal of money by giving exhibitions at aviation meets. If she undertakes it there is, we all know, much hard 230work ahead of her, coupled with a certain degree of danger.” He turned to the girl. “It will be for you to decide, my dear.”

Orissa did not hesitate in her reply.

“I will do all in my power to exhibit Steve’s machine properly, until he is well enough to operate it himself,” she said. “Then he will become the popular hero in my place, and I’ll retire to the background, where I belong.”

Even Steve smiled at this prediction.

“I’ll never be able to run the thing as you can, Ris,” he replied, “and you mustn’t overlook the fact that your being a girl gives you as great an advantage over me, as an aeronaut, as over all other aviators. I think Mr. Cumberford is right in saying that the advertising and prestige you have already received will enable you to win a fortune for us—provided you are willing to assume the risk and exertion, and if mother will consent.”

“I love the moil and toil of it, as well as the pleasure,” exclaimed the girl. “It will be joy and bliss to me to fly the aircraft on every possible occasion, and if you’ll leave me to manage mother I’ll guarantee to secure her consent.”

At this juncture Chesty Todd came in. His face was solemn and dejected.

“What’s up?” asked Steve.

231“Lost my job, that’s all,” said Chesty. “Our editor thinks I didn’t run down that Burthon affair as well as the other fellows did and that I neglected some of the famous aviators to gush over Miss Kane. That’s his excuse, anyhow; but my private opinion, publicly expressed, is that I was predoomed to be fired, whatever I did.”

“Why so?” inquired Orissa.

“I’m getting too good. They’re afraid if they kept me on I’d demand more wages.”

There was a shout of laughter at this.

“Of course I didn’t expect sympathy,” observed Chesty, dolefully. “I see starvation ahead of me, and as there’s a good deal of Mr. Radley-Todd to starve it’s bound to be a tedious and trying experience.”

“This interests me,” remarked Mr. Cumberford, musingly.

“Me, also,” said Chesty.

Cumberford related the engagement made that morning for Miss Kane’s San Francisco exhibition and the demand of the New Orleans representative.

“The promoters of every aviation meet, hereafter, will want to secure Orissa,” he added, “and so we are about to organize a campaign to advertise ‘The Flying Girl’ and the Kane Aircraft throughout the United States. Possibly we may take her to Europe—”

232“Oh!” exclaimed Orissa, excitedly. “Don’t you think the people of Mars would like me to visit them?”

“I see,” said Chesty, nodding. “You need a press agent.”

“It might not be a bad idea,” admitted Mr. Cumberford.

“I’m engaged from this moment,” declared the young man. “I’ve had my breakfast, thank you, but I shall require three square meals a day from this time on. Any further emolument I leave to you. As for promoting Miss Kane, you’ll find me thoroughly capable and willing—provided the young lady proves flighty and goes up in the air occasionally, as young ladies are prone to do. This may be a soar subject to discuss just now, so I’ll end my aëroplaintive lay.”

“If you put that bosh in the papers you’ll ruin us,” said Steve.

“Trust me,” returned Chesty, earnestly. “I’ll stick to the most dignified facts, merely relating that Miss Kane is to make an ascension for the purpose of picking air currants to make jam of.”

“All right,” announced Mr. Cumberford; “you’re engaged.”

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