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CHAPTER X
A FRESH START

When Orissa appeared at the office Monday morning she went quietly about her work, feeling very happy indeed. The astonishing generosity of Mr. Cumberford had relieved all her worries and brought sunshine into her heart.

Mr. Burthon came at his usual time and on taking his place at the desk looked inquiringly at Orissa, but said nothing. Neither did she mention the subject of the aircraft. Her employer, watching her stealthily from behind his desk, could not fail to note the joy in her face and was undoubtedly puzzled to account for it—unless, indeed, she and her brother had decided to accept his proposition. He had an idea that they would accept; that they must accept; it was the only way they could carry on their experiment. But he waited for her to refer to the subject.

Orissa managed to escape that night while a customer was engaging Mr. Burthon’s attention. She disliked, for some unexplained reason, to tell him they had decided not to take him for a partner. Arriving home she found Steve busily at work rebuilding his airship, and it pleased her to hear his cheery whistle as she approached the hangar. The young fellow was in capital spirits.

“You see, Ris,” said he, “with all this money to use I shall be able to make an entirely new automatic balance. I’ve come to the conclusion the first one doesn’t work smoothly enough to be entirely satisfactory. I shall also provide a store of extra ribs and such parts as are liable to get damaged, so that the repair work will be a matter of hours instead of days. How lucky it was Mr. Cumberford ran out of gasoline yesterday.”

“He’s a queer man,” replied Orissa, thoughtfully. “I can’t make up my mind yet whether I like him or not.”

“I like his money, anyhow,” laughed Steve; “and we didn’t have to give him a half interest to get it, either. I imagine the man was really touched by your endeavor to save him from what you thought was a bad bargain, and certainly his magnanimous act could have been prompted by nothing but kindness.”

“It saved our half interest, at least,” she said, evasively. “Has he been here to-day, Steve?”

“Haven’t seen even his shadow,” was the reply. “I don’t imagine he’ll bother us much, although he has reserved the right to look around all he wants to. He must be a busy man, with all his wealth.”

The next morning, however, after Orissa had gone to her work, Mr. Cumberford’s car spun up the lane and he came into the hangar, nodded to Steve and sat down quietly on the bench.

For a time he silently watched the young man shave a Cyprus rib into shape; then got up and carefully examined the motor, which was in good order. Steve knew, when first Mr. Cumberford began asking questions, that he understood machinery, and the man was quick to perceive the value of young Kane’s improvements.

“It interests me,” he drawled, after starting the engines and watching them work. “As a boy I longed to be a mechanic. Got sidetracked, though, and became a speculator. Needs almost as much ingenuity to succeed in that as in mechanics. Pays better, but ruins one’s self-respect. Stick to mechanics, Kane.”

“I will,” promised Steve, laughing.

“This new profession,” continued Cumberford, “will throw you in with a lot of ‘queer’ people—same sort that used to follow the races and now bet on automobile contests. Keep your sister away from them.”

“I’ll try to,” returned Steve, more soberly. “But Orissa is crazy over aviation, and she’ll have to go everywhere that I do.”

“That’s all right; I like the idea. But don’t introduce her to every fellow you are forced to associate with. Girls are queer, and your sister is—beautiful. I’ve a daughter myself.”

“Oh!” exclaimed Steve, not knowing just how to take this remark.

“My daughter is not—beautiful. No. And she’s a demon. I’ll bring her here to see you and your sister, some day.”

“Thank you,” said Steve, turning red. Certainly this new acquaintance was odd and unaccountable in some ways. Steve wondered why he should bring a “demon” to the hangar, and why he described his own daughter in such uncomplimentary language.

Mr. Cumberford smoked a cigarette thoughtfully.

“Your sister,” he said, “interests me. She’s a good girl. Must have a good mother.”

“The best in the world,” asserted Steve, proudly.

“My daughter,” resumed Cumberford, “takes after her mother. Girls usually do. Her mother was—well, she was Burthon’s sister. Catch the idea? It was all my fault, and Sybil—that’s my daughter—blames me for her parentage. With apparent justice. Not a joke, Kane. Don’t laugh.”

“I’m not laughing, sir.”

“Speaking of Burthon reminds me of something. I don’t like the idea of your sister working there—in his office.”

“He has always treated her very nicely, I believe,” said Steve, “and Orissa feels she must earn some money.”

“Not necessary. You’ve a fortune in your airship. Take the girl away from Burthon. Keep her at home.”

Steve did not reply to this, but he decided it was not a bad suggestion.

“How old is she?” inquired Cumberford, presently.

“Just seventeen.”

“Too young to work in an office. Finished her education?”

“All we are able to give her, sir.”

“H-m-m. Take my advice. Burthon’s unreliable. I know him. Gorilla inside, man outside. I—I married a Burthon.”

These brief sentences were spoken between puffs of his cigarette. Sometimes there would be a very definite pause between them, while the man smoked and reflected upon his subject. Steve continued his work and answered when required to do so.

Cumberford stayed at the hangar until nearly noon, watching the boy work, bearing a hand now and then when a plane rib was awkward to handle alone, always interested in everything pertaining to the aëroplane. He made Steve explain the changes he proposed to apply to the lateral balance and offered one or two rather clever suggestions, showing his grasp of the subject. But he did not refer to Orissa again and finally slipped away without saying good-bye.

Steve thought him queerer than during their first interview, but liked him better.