Ruthe Wheeler.

Jane, Stewardess of the Air Lines

You wont, promised the chief stewardess. After these girls are trained, youll go back on the Coast to Coast. Im going to take you off regular assignment next Sunday for the girls will arrive early Monday morning. I shall plan to turn over most of the work in the classroom and the commissary to you.

When Jane told her companions of the good news, they were almost as pleased as she.

I wonder who is going to get your place on the Coast to Coast? mused Sue.

You are, my dear. I saw Miss Comstock making out your transfer card just as I left.

Then youll have to watch your laurels, warned Sue, for Ive always wanted the Coast to Coast and Ill do my best to make such a fine record theyll decide to keep me on that run. Most of the celebrities pick the Coast to Coast. Its got the fastest and most convenient schedule.

And the prettiest stewardesses, added Alice.

The new girls arrived at 9:30 oclock Monday morning and Miss Comstock greeted them. They were all from Chicago hospitals, pretty, as well as efficient. Jane catalogued them mentally, looking for the possible troublemakers, for after the departure of Mattie Clark, the routine had been pleasant and they wanted to keep things that way. None of the new girls appeared to be inclined toward a know-it-all attitude, for which Jane was grateful.

Miss Comstock introduced her and turned over the routine of helping the girls find rooms. Jane knew Cheyenne so well by now, that she was in an excellent position to advise them, and immediately after lunch they plunged into the routine of classes, which was to prepare the newcomers for permanent positions in the service.

The girls were eager and alert and Jane found the class work pleasant. There was nothing of the nervousness and drudgery about it that she had feared.

When it came time for Miss Comstock to put the girls through the final examinations, they passed with flying colors, much to the credit of their young instructor.

Some weeks later big news sped along the line. New planes were being made in the companys plant at Tacoma. The old tri-motors which had braved the elements through winter and summer for four years were to be retired. The new ships would have two engines, of 600 horsepower each, and would speed along at 180 to 190 miles an hour, with a top speed of 210.

Jane asked Charlie Fischer about the planes, but Charlie professed to be in almost complete ignorance.

Weve got to go to school and learn how to handle them, he said. Im starting for Tacoma tomorrow night. I hear theyre all metal with the latest do-dads the inventors can stick on them. Pretty soon well have to have an expert along to tell the pilot what to do.

All of the ace pilots of the line were called to Tacoma at various intervals to see the new planes. Charlie returned enthusiastic.

Theyre the greatest ships ever built, he told Jane and Sue, the first time he saw them after his return.

Why well be able to outrun the lightning. They carry ten passengers, two pilots and a stewardess, although I dont know why they want the latter tagging along.

Seems to me, Charlie, interrupted Sue, that once or twice youve been mighty glad to have a stewardess on the ship.

Must have been some other fellow, grinned Charlie. Just wait until you see your pantry. The whole things done in the latest stainless metal. My instrument board looks like an inventors paradise, but I guess Ill be able to figure out what all of the gauges and dials are for.

Interest in the new planes ran high and the first test flight across the entire system was set for October 2nd. According to the tentative schedule, they would clip at least eight hours off the coast to coast time.

Jane hoped that she would get the first assignment, for she was back in active service, but Grace drew the coveted slip, which gave her the right to care for the passengers on the initial flight of the new queen of the air.

They watched the progress of the swift craft from the moment it left the Golden Gate. As many of the Cheyenne crew as possible grouped about the radio in the communications office. With a favoring tail wind, the pilots west of Cheyenne kept the average at better than 190 miles an hour, including stops. It was fast enough to make them almost dizzy.

Ill bet I never get a deep breath from here to Chicago, smiled Grace, as the silver monoplane settled down on the Cheyenne field.

The new craft was a thing of beauty, all metal, with one low wing. The propellers were set ahead of the wing and the wheels folded into the body when it was in flight. The fuselage with the pilots cockpit and cabin for the passengers was like the body of a wasp, long and gracefully stream-lined to reduce wind resistance.

Jane and Sue accompanied Grace to the plane, anxious to see what the interior was like. It was not as roomy as the hulking tri-motors, but the seats were more comfortable and the pantry which the stewardess used was complete to the latest detail. The lights were soft and easily adjustable. Each passenger could control the ventilation of the individual windows. The interior was in black and brown, pleasingly harmonious.

There was a full passenger list, and Grace was busy checking over the list and making sure the necessary supplies were aboard. Then the sleek craft was away, Jane and Sue waving, as the monoplane rolled out of the hangar. Grace waved back as the night swallowed the plane.

For two hours Jane and Sue remained at the field, listening to reports of the speeding ship, which was setting a new record for air passenger travel in the United States.

What fun it would be aloft tonight, said Sue a bit sadly, and to know that you were setting a new speed record.

We shouldnt begrudge Grace that trip, Jane replied. Weve had plenty of good things since we joined the service.

Before winter set in, the entire fleet of new planes was operating on the transcontinental line and the sturdy old tri-motors were wheeled into the hangars where dust soon stood thick on the valiant wings.

Winter flying was to be a new experience for the girls, and they were issued trimly tailored coats, heavily lined. Fortunately the new planes were well insulated and there was a splendid electric heating system.

Extreme cold failed to slow up the schedules, the planes stopping only for snow, which swirled down from the peaks of the Rockies. Christmas eve found Jane roaring toward Chicago on the Coast to Coast, but she had planned for it and brought a tiny Christmas tree aboard at Cheyenne. There were only eight passengers aboard and she had shopped in the dime store for small gifts which would be appropriate for almost any group. She copied the names from the passenger list on gift tags and then carried the tree and her armful of presents to the front of the cabin, placing them in the two forward chairs.

The passengers were delighted, for Christmas eve away from home, even at 5,000 feet in the air and speeding along at 180 miles an hour, could be a little dreary.

Jane was gay, and her good humor cheered up her passengers. One by one she called their names and they opened their presents with evident curiosity and enthusiasm. There was a nice handkerchief for the elderly woman who was hurrying to Chicago, a tube of shaving-cream for the clean-shaven New York traveling man, and a picture book for the little girl of seven who was traveling with her mother.

Gifts for the other passengers were appropriate. Then Jane opened a basket of popcorn balls she had made at Mrs. Murphys and a box of delicious home-made candy. All in all, it was as gay and pleasant as Christmas eve could be away from home.

With the turn into the new year, winter descended on the Rockies in all its fury. Blizzards raged for days and the passenger schedules were practically abandoned. Whenever the storm let up, the planes, with only the pilots and the mail aboard, dashed across the continental divide, but for more than a week, Jane and her companions remained snowbound at Cheyenne.

Then reports of sickness and misery in isolated mountain towns began to creep in. Doctors were running short of supplies in villages where the flu had appeared. Unless the blizzards abated soon, there would be serious trouble.

Jane was scheduled to go out on the Coast to Coast, coming through from the west for the first time in three days. The plane was hours late and she reported at the field just as the early January night closed down. Miss Comstock was in the operations room. So was Slim Bollei, one of the veteran pilots.

You might as well go home, Jane, said Miss Comstock. I phoned, but you had started for the field. Its snowing west of here and the Coast to Coast wont get out of Rock Springs before dawn.

Slim Bollei, who had been looking out the window, shrugged his shoulders.

Youre optimistic, he grinned. Its snowing thicker and harder than at any time this winter.

The weather had turned bitter cold with the wind lashing around the big hangar in a chilling overture.

When Jane started back to the city, she found that the field car which had brought her was stalled. She telephoned for a taxi, but was informed that no machine would be available for at least an hour, so she made herself comfortable in the waiting room which adjoined the office of the night operations chief.

Sue called to learn if they were going to try to get the Coast to Coast through and Jane informed her that she was marooned at the field.

Maybe Ill be home by morning, she concluded hopefully.

It was half an hour later when the phone on the night chiefs desk rang. Jane was near enough to catch most of the conversation for the man on the other end of the wire was shouting.

Sure, I know theres trouble, the night chief said, but we arent moving any of our mail planes. It would be suicide to attempt to fly tonight.

Whats the matter? asked Slim Bollei.

Its the governor at Laramie, replied the night chief. Theres been a bad outbreak of diphtheria at Lytton, a village up against the Montana line in the country that God forgot. The doctor there is out of serum and a couple of the youngsters are desperately ill. Theres plenty of serum here and the governor wants us to get a plane through.

The night chief turned back to the telephone.

But I tell you, governor, it cant be done. You cant see a hundred feet through this storm and the temperatures down to five below zero and dropping fast.

Wait a minute, cut in Slim Bollei. Find out whats the least possible time the serum can be used and do any good.

Theyve got to have it before tomorrow night, said the night chief when the governors reply came to him. Everything else thats tried to get to Lytton has failed. Its a plane or nothing at all.

Tell him well get through some way, snapped Slim. We cant let kids die without trying.

But we cant afford to wreck one of the new ships, protested the night chief.

Ill take one of the old tri-motors. Tell the governor well get through.

The flyer turned and walked toward the radio room.

Get Chicago, he snapped, and have them put the operations chief on the wire.

Less than a minute later Slim Bollei poured his story over the short wave radio and into the ears of the operations chief at Chicago. He wanted one of the old tri-motors and he got it with the chiefs blessing. After that he left on the run to route out a ground crew to get the plane ready for the flight.

Miss Comstock, who had listened gravely, turned to Jane.

Slim cant go alone, she said. A nurse will be needed there. Im going. You take charge here.

But youre needed more than I am, protested Jane. Let me go.

Miss Comstock shook her head.

Theres too much danger. Slim and I will go.

One nurse wont be enough, insisted Jane. Think what two of us could do, think what it will mean to those youngsters.

Miss Comstock smiled. You win, Jane. Well both go.

Outside the shadowy bulk of one of the tri-motors was being wheeled into the hangar. As soon as there was the slightest break in the storm, they would be away on their errand of mercy.

Chapter Twenty-three
White Madness

Miss Comstock, with Jane at her heels, hurried into the commissary. Supplies must be made ready and food placed aboard the tri-motor. Out in the hangar a crew worked desperately over the big plane, tuning up the motors and checking in the gas and oil.

Slim Bollei, in a sheepskin, appeared to be everywhere, orders cracking from his thin lips.

In half an hour Jane and the chief stewardess had two large hampers ready, one filled with medical supplies and bandages and the other containing food. There was more than a chance that they would be forced down and food might become very much of a necessity.

A car struggled through the storm, bringing the serum out from the city, and Slim Bollei returned to the operations office.

Everythings ready, he informed the night chief. Hows the weather?

Not so good. Its still snowing hard in the mountains and the mercury is eight below now, but it wont drop much further.

Well wait another hour and see if we can get away then, decided Slim.

Jane and Miss Comstock sat down in the waiting room, drawing their coats around them, for at eight below zero the heating plant was functioning none too well.

The pilot came in with two fleece-lined coats.

Better put these on, he advised. There wont be much heat in the cabin and I dont want to drop down at Lytton with a couple of frozen stewardesses on my hands.

They accepted the coats gratefully and waited for the next reports on the storm.

It was dismal waiting there, with the wind howling around the hangar and the snow driving against the windows. At midnight it was still storming hard and they delayed their departure another hour. But the storm held on and the sky was greying before Slim Bollei decided to make the attempt.

The motors of the huge biplane roared lustily in spite of the cold, the hampers and the precious serum were placed aboard, parachutes were adjusted under their coats and the trio, the chief pilot and the two stewardesses, struggled out to the plane.

The cabin was cold and it would take some time before heat from the motors warmed it. Miss Comstock and Jane kept moving about and looking out at the storm. It was still snowing, but the fall was not as thick as it had been during the night. Reports from the west indicated the end of the blizzard was near.

Slim Bollei came back into the main cabin.

All ready? he asked.

Miss Comstock nodded.

See that your chute packs dont foul. If I signal three times on your light youll know were in trouble. Four sharp flashes will mean youve got to unload.

What about yourself? demanded the chief stewardess.

Ill get along all right, said Slim. You get out of the cabin if I signal for a jump.

The radio operator ran out with the final weather report and the tractor rolled the big doors away. The biplane quivered as the full strength of the wind whistled through the hangar. Then the ship rolled ahead, flame spitting from the three long exhausts. The runways had been swept clear of snow by the wind and Slim Bollei opened the throttle. In no time at all they were in the air, turning north for the 160-mile flight to Lytton.

With a quartering wind from the Rockies, the plane pitched badly and Miss Comstock and Jane fastened their safety belts. Even then they were thrown around sharply.

The cabin warmed only slightly, for the older ships had been poorly insulated. Jane beat her hand together to keep the circulation flowing. The air speed indicator hovered around the 90 mile an hour mark. At that rate it would take them nearly two hours to make the trip. The ground disappeared in the drifting haze of snow and Jane knew the pilot was flying blind. She was glad that Slim was rated one of the best flyers on the system, for he would have need of every ounce of the skill in his capable hands.

For an hour they bored through the storm. Then the middle motor started to sputter and the light flashed three times. They unfastened their safety belts and stood in the aisle.

Im going ahead to see whats wrong, said Miss Comstock.

She hurried forward and Jane listened intently to the uneven firing of the motor.

When Miss Comstock returned Jane could see that the chief stewardess was worried.

Slim says the motor seems to be freezing up. Its only a question of time before it will quit altogether.

Does that mean well have to try for a landing? asked Jane.

He thinks he can keep going on the wing motors. Hes going to try but he said to be ready to jump if one of them stops.

Standing in the aisle of the cold cabin, with the wind rocking the plane and the snow hiding the ground, Jane felt a chilling of her heart that was caused by something beside the sub-zero winter. The serum they carried was so desperately needed in the isolated town. Lives of children depended on the success of their trip. They must win through; the wing motors must continue their rhythmic beating.

Five minutes later the center motor quit firing altogether and the wing engines growled as the added burden came upon them. The wind seemed to have slackened slightly, but the mantle of snow still enfolded them in its fleecy whiteness.

The minutes crept on endlessly. They must be nearing the village if the pilots calculations were correct and the wind had not drifted them too far off their course.

Jane went to one of the windows and peered down. There was only the snow and the wind swirling it below them. Then they started down, feeling their way through the blizzard.

It was tricky work, a task that required the hand of a master pilot, for at any moment they might smash down out of the sky in a crash landing.

With nerves taut, the stewardesses watched the needle of the altimeter. The light flashed three times. It was the warning of trouble ahead.

The plane lurched upward and a resounding shock rocked the big craft. Jane caught a glimpse of something black and rugged underneath the left wing. Miss Comstock cried out in alarm.

The landing gears smashed, she shouted.

We must have struck a rock ridge, replied Jane.

They zoomed upward and the light flashed four times. That was the signal to jump. Jane looked at Miss Comstock. The chief stewardess shook her head.

Im not jumping, she cried.

Neither am I, replied Jane, hurrying ahead to the pilots cockpit.

Slim Bollei was clinging to his controls.

Jump, he yelled. Weve washed out the landing gear.

Were not jumping, Jane told him firmly. If the storm will only clear you may be able to skid in for a landing on the snow.

Thats what Im hoping for, but I cant stay up here forever.

Jane remained in the forward cockpit while the pilot sought a break in the storm which would enable him to get his bearings and land. For fifteen minutes they cruised in great circles.

The storms breaking away, cried Jane.

Slim nodded hopefully. It did seem as though the snow was thinning. For another fifteen minutes the motors droned steadily and at the end of that time, the snow lessened to a fine cloud. Objects on the ground came into view. Theres a village! cried Jane, pointing to the right.

Slim Bollei swung the tri-motor in a gentle circle, for he lacked the power for steep climbs and banks. As the plane roared over the snowbound town, men appeared, waving their arms frantically.

I guess thats the place, grinned Slim. Its the only town within thirty miles. Now weve got to find a place where we can do a little skiing.

Beyond the village he found a field nearly half a mile long. It was sheltered in a valley with what wind still remained sweeping the length of the field.

Get back in the cabin and hang on, shouted the pilot. Im going to cut the motors and see what kind of a snowbird this is.

Were starting down, Jane told Miss Comstock when she returned to the cabin.

The plane tilted forward and the motors eased down to a whisper. The snow-covered ground leaped toward them, then seemed to pause in its mad rush as the biplane leveled out there was a sharp bump, the sound of tearing wood and fabric, and a series of jolting shocks before the tri-motor came to rest with its nose in a deep drift.

Slim Bollei staggered back into the cabin, a deep gash over his right eye.

Get the serum out of here. The gas tanks have given way and the fuel may explode any second.

Jane clutched the package of precious serum and threw open the cabin door. Miss Comstock came after her, tugging the hamper loaded with medical supplies while Slim carried the hamper of food. The snow was eighteen inches deep, and they floundered through it, gasping for breath. They stopped a hundred yards away from the big plane and Slim eyed it ruefully.

Thats a good job for a salvage crew, he said, but I guess the line wont kick a whole lot. That ship paid for itself many a time.

Strangely enough, even with the fuel flowing out of the split gas tanks, the big craft did not take fire and the flyer and the stewardesses turned to greet the villagers, who were hurrying to meet them.

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