The Flying Girl/Chapter 5
BETWEEN MAN AND MAN—AND A GIRL
That night Orissa confided the whole story to Steve. Her brother listened thoughtfully and then inquired:
“Will you really warn Mr. Cumberford, Ris?”
“I—I ought to,” she faltered.
“Then do,” he returned. “To my notion Burthon is playing a mean trick on the fellow, and no good business man would either applaud or respect him for it. Your employer is shifty, Orissa; I’m sure of it; if I were you I’d put a stop to his game no matter what came of it.”
“Very well, Steve; I’ll do it. But I don’t believe Mr. Burthon means to be a bad man. His plea about his conscience proves that. But—but—”
“It’s worse for a man to realize he’s doing wrong, and then do it, than if he were too hardened to have any conscience at all,” asserted Steve oracularly.
“And if I let him do this wrong act I would be as guilty as he,” she added.
“That’s true, Ris. You’ll lose your job, sure enough, but there will be another somewhere just as good.”
So, when Mr. Burthon’s secretary went to the office next morning she was keyed up to do the most heroic deed that had ever come to her hand. Whatever the consequences might be, the girl was determined to waylay Mr. Cumberford when he arrived and tell him the truth about the Queen of Hearts.
But he did not come to the office at nine o’clock. Neither had Mr. Burthon arrived at that time. Orissa, her heart beating with trepidation but strong in resolve, watched the clock nearing the hour, passing it, and steadily ticking on in the silence of the office. The outer room was busy this morning, and in the broker’s absence his secretary was called upon to perform many minor tasks; but her mind was more upon the clock than upon her work.
Ten o’clock came. Eleven. At half past eleven the door swung open and Mr. Burthon ushered in a strange gentleman whom Orissa at once decided was Mr. Cumberford. He was extremely tall and thin and stooped somewhat as he walked. He had a long, grizzled mustache, wore gold-rimmed eyeglasses and carried a gold-headed cane. From his patent leather shoes to his chamois gloves he was as neat and sleek as if about to attend a reception.
Observing the presence of a young lady the stranger at once removed his hat, showing his head to be perfectly bald.
“Sit down, Cumberford,” said Mr. Burthon, carelessly.
As he obeyed, Orissa, her face flaming red, advanced to a position before him and exclaimed in a pleading voice:
“Oh, sir, do not buy Mr. Burthon’s mine, I beg of you!”
The man stared at her with faded gray eyes which were enlarged by the lenses of his spectacles. Mr. Burthon smiled, seemed interested, and watched the scene with evident amusement.
“Why not, my child?” asked Mr. Cumberford.
“Because it is worthless—absolutely worthless!” she declared.
He turned to the other man.
“Eh, Burthon?” he muttered, inquiringly.
“Miss Kane believes she is speaking the truth,” said the broker jauntily.
“Oh, she does. And you, Burthon?”
“I? Why, I’m of the same opinion.”
Mr. Cumberford took out his handkerchief, removed his glasses and polished the lenses with a thoughtful air. Orissa was trembling with nervousness.
“Don’t buy the Queen of Hearts, sir; it would ruin you,” she repeated earnestly.
He breathed upon the glasses and wiped them carefully.
“You interest me,” he remarked. “But, the fact is, I—er—I’ve bought it.”
“At nine o’clock, according to agreement. Burthon sent word he’d come to my hotel instead of meeting me at his office, as first planned.”
“Oh, I see!” cried Orissa, much disappointed. “He knew I would prevent the crime.”
“Is it not a crime to rob you of two hundred and fifty thousand dollars?”
“It would be, of course. I should dislike to lose so much money.”
“You have lost it!” declared the girl. “That mine has no gold in it at all—except what has been bought elsewhere and placed in it to deceive a purchaser.”
Mr. Cumberford replaced his glasses, adjusting them carefully upon his nose. Then he stared at Orissa again.
“You’re an honest young woman,” he said calmly. “I’m much obliged. You interest me. But—ahem!—Burthon has my money, you see.”
Mr. Burthon’s expression had changed. He was now regarding his brother-in-law with a curious and puzzled gaze.
“You’re not angry, Cumberford?” he asked.
“You’re not even annoyed, I take it?” This with something of a sneer.
Both Orissa and her employer were amazed. Looking from one to another, Mr. Cumberford’s waxen features relaxed into a smile.
“I’ve placed my Queen of Hearts stock in a safety deposit vault,” he remarked blandly.
“I have deposited your money in my bank,” retorted Mr. Burthon, triumphantly.
“Excellent!” said the other. “The thing interests me—indeed it does. You couldn’t purchase that stock from me at this moment, Burthon, for twice the sum I paid you. ” “No? And why not?”
“I’ll tell you. I had not intended to refer to the matter just yet, but this young woman’s exposé of your attempted trickery induces me to explain matters. You have always taken me for a fool, Burthon.”
“I’ve tried to place a proper value on your intellect, Cumberford.”
“You have little talent in that line, believe me. Before I came out here I had heard such glowing reports of the Queen of Hearts that I stopped off in Arizona to see the wonderful mine. The manager was very polite and showed me about, but somehow I got a notion that all was not square and aboveboard. I’ve always been interested in mines; they fascinate me; and if this mine was as rich as reported I wanted some of the stock. But I imagined things looked a little queer, so I sent a confidential agent—fellow named Brewster, who has been with me for years—to hire out as a miner and keep his eyes open. He soon discovered the truth—that the mine was being ‘salted’ or fed with outside gold ore in precisely the way this girl has stated.”
He turned to Orissa with a profound bow, then looked toward Burthon again. “The thing interested me. I wondered why, and wired my man to stay on a little longer, till I had time to think it over. I—er—think very slowly. Very. In a few days Brewster telegraphed me the startling intelligence that the mine had actually struck a new lead, with ore far richer than the first showing, although that had made the Queen of Hearts famous. My man had been sent to the telegraph office with messages from the manager to Mr. Burthon and the four other stockholders; but poor Brewster’s memory is bad, and he forgot to send a telegram to anyone but me. Of course the great strike—er—interested me. I instructed Brewster over the telegraph wire. At a cost of five thousand dollars we bribed the manager to keep the valuable strike secret for ten days. He’s an honest man, and I shall retain him in the office. The ten days expire to-night. Meantime, I’ve purchased the stock.”
Mr. Burthon sprang to his feet, white with anger.
“You scoundrel!” he shouted.
“Don’t get excited, Burthon. This is a mere business incident, between man and man—and a girl.” Another bow toward Orissa. “You tried to rob me, sir, and sneered when you thought you had succeeded. I haven’t robbed you, for I paid your price; but I’ve made a very neat investment. My stock is worth a million at this moment. Interesting, isn’t it?”
Mr. Burthon recovered himself with an effort and sat down again.
“Very well,” he said a little thickly. “As you say, it’s all in the way of business. Good day, Cumberford.”
The other man arose and faced Orissa, who stood by wholly bewildered by this unexpected development.
“Thank you again, my child. Your name? Orissa Kane. I’ll remember it. You tried to do me a kindness. Interesting—very!”
Without another glance at Mr. Burthon he put on his hat, walked out and closed the door softly behind him.
Orissa looked up and found the broker’s eyes regarding her intently.
“I—I’m sorry, sir,” she stammered; “but I had to do it, to satisfy my conscience. I suppose I am dismissed?”
“No, indeed, Miss Kane,” he returned in kindly tones. “An honest secretary is too rare an acquisition to be dismissed without just cause. Having told you what I did, I could expect you to act in no other way.”
“And, after all, sir,” she said, brightening at the thought, “you did not rob him! Yet you saved your fortune.”
He made a slight grimace, and then laughed frankly.
“Had I taken your advice,” he rejoined, “I should now be worth a million.”