The Flying Girl/Chapter 16

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CHAPTER XVI
THE OPENING GUN

Sybil rode with her father into town. On the way she said:

“You puzzle me. One would imagine you are playing fair with the Kanes.”

“Mere imagination,” he returned, gruffly.

“Yes,” she agreed; “your nature is to plot and intrigue. The deeper, the more stealthy and unsuspected the plot, the more characteristic is it of my subtle parent.”

“True,” he said.

“But here is a condition that puzzles me, as I have remarked. I understand how you won the confidence of the Kanes by posing as generous and unselfish. That was quite like you. But to-day you had them in your power. You might have demanded anything—everything—yet you accepted a mere ten per cent. Now I’m really wondering what your game is.”

It was evident he did not relish his daughter’s criticism, for his usually placid brow bore a heavy frown. Still, he answered lightly:

“You’re stirring too deep; you’re roiling the pot. Why don’t you look on the surface?”

“Oh! how stupid of me,” she said in a relieved voice.

“To be a diverse scoundrel,” announced her father, “is the acme of diabolic art. From complication to simplicity is but a step, yet requires audacity. Most rascals fail to realize that an honest act, by way of contrast, affords more satisfaction than persistent chicanery will produce. We must have variety in our pleasures in order to get the most from them.”

“To be sure,” said Sybil.

“Meantime, you are forgetting your Uncle Burthon.”

They rode in silence for a time. Then the girl nestled a little closer to her father’s side and murmured:

“I’m mighty glad, Daddy. I like the Kanes.”

“So do I,” he responded.

“And isn’t Stephen’s aëroplane marvelous?”

“I consider it,” said he, “the cleverest and most important invention of the age.”

By eight o’clock a skillful photographer was on his way to Stephen Kane’s hangar to get pictures of the aircraft, while Mr. Cumberford sat in the office of a noted advertising expert and bargained for an amount of publicity that fairly made the man’s head swim. The city editors of all the morning papers were next interviewed and interested in the Cumberford campaign, so that half a dozen reporters who were noted for their brilliant descriptive writing attended a luncheon given by Mr. Cumberford at the Aëro Club and listened to his glowing accounts of the Kane Aircraft and the wonderful flight made by its inventor that very morning.

For fear Mr. Burthon might drop into the Club during this session, the cautious “manager” of the aircraft had taken the precaution to have Brewster telephone him to come to the South Pasadena workshop, and to keep him there by some pretext till late in the day. This was done. Mr. Burthon spent the entire afternoon with his imitation aircraft, returning to Los Angeles for a late dinner at his club. Then, being very tired, he went early to bed.

At breakfast next morning he picked up a newspaper, started as his eye fell upon the lurid headlines, and nearly fainted with chagrin and anger.

Upon the first page was a large picture of the Kane Aircraft, with a vignette of its inventor in an upper corner and columns of description and enthusiastic comment regarding his creation, which was heralded as a distinct forward stride in practical aviation. Stephen’s remarkable flight was referred to and promise made of an exhibition soon to be held at Dominguez Field where the public would be given an opportunity to see the aircraft in action.

Mr. Burthon, as soon as he could recover himself, read every word carefully. Then he smoked his cigar and thought it over. Half an hour later he was making the rounds of the evening papers, but found he was unable to “kill” the articles prepared to exploit the Kane Aircraft. The morning papers having devoted so much space to the subject, the afternoon papers could not possibly ignore it, and finding he was helpless in this attempt he followed another tack.

Entering the office of the secretary of the Aëro Club he said:

“I believe our contract with the owners of Dominguez Field provides that the Aëro Club may have the use of the grounds whenever it so desires, regardless of any other engagements by outsiders.”

“Certainly,” replied the secretary. “I remember you yourself insisted upon that condition, as chairman of the committee on arrangements.”

“Please notify the manager that we require Dominguez Field, for Club purposes, every day for the next two weeks.”

“But—Mr. Burthon! Think of the expense.”

“I shall personally pay all charges.”

“Very well.”

The secretary telephoned, and was informed that the Field had been engaged that morning for the coming Saturday by a Mr. Cumberford, an Aëro Club member. But Mr. Burthon insisted on the rights of the Club, as an organization, and the manager agreed to cancel Cumberford’s engagement.

From there Mr. Burthon went to the managers of the Motordrome, the baseball parks and Luna, engaging every open date for two weeks to come. Then having practically tied up every available place where the Kane Aircraft might be publicly exhibited, he sighed contentedly and went to his South Pasadena workshop to hasten the completion of his own aëroplane.

Mr. Cumberford was annoyed when he received notice that he could not have Dominguez Field for any day previous to the aviation meet. He was further annoyed by the discovery that Burthon had engaged every public amusement park in the vicinity of Los Angeles. But he was not the man to despair in such an emergency; the contest between him and his hated brother-in-law merely sharpened his wits and rendered him more alert.

He found a broad vacant field on the Santa Monica car line; arranged with the street railway company to carry the people there for a five cent fare, and tied up his deals with contracts so that Burthon would be unable to interfere. Then he ordered a large grand stand to be built and instead of fencing in the grounds determined to make the exhibition absolutely free to all who cared to attend.

These arrangements completed, Mr. Cumberford announced in glaring advertisements the date of the exhibition, and decided he had won the game.

Mr. Burthon tried to enjoin the exhibition, claiming that Stephen Kane’s aircraft was an infringement on his own device; but Stephen personally appeared before the judge and convinced him there was nothing in the assertion. Of course Mr. Cumberford saw that the newspapers had full accounts of these proceedings, and so public interest was keyed up to the highest pitch when Saturday arrived. The cars on that day were taxed to their fullest capacity to carry the crowds to Kane Park, as the new aviation field was called.

A large and attractive hangar had been constructed on the field, and Stephen, on the morning of the exhibition, flew his aëroplane from Marston’s pasture to Kane Park, alighting successfully just before the hangar. Orissa, Sybil and Mr. Cumberford were there to receive him, and after placing the aircraft safely in the new hangar they all motored to town for breakfast at the Alexandria.

It was no longer possible for Steve to take entire personal charge of his invention, so Mr. Cumberford, having made a careful search, was finally able to secure two men, who until that time had been strangers to one another, as assistants. These men were skilled mechanics and recommended as honest and reliable—which perhaps they were under ordinary circumstances. Their names were Wilson and Reed. As they had already been two days in Stephen’s workshop and were now thoroughly conversant with their duties, these two men were left at the hangar in charge of the aëroplane, with instructions to watch it carefully and allow no one to enter or to examine it.

Steve needed rest, for he had worked night and day preparing for this important public test. The exhibition was to be held at two o’clock, so he reluctantly acceded to Mr. Cumberford’s request that he lie down in a quiet room at the hotel and sleep until he was called to lunch.