Ruthe Wheeler.

Jane, Stewardess of the Air Lines

They had to wait a few minutes until the cab arrived and then they were whirled rapidly toward the field on the outskirts of the city.

When they reached the airport, Jane went straight to the waiting room and sat down at a writing table.

Going to write home? asked Sue.

First of all Im writing to Miss Hardy back at Good Samaritan. After all, it was because of her interest that we managed to get these positions. Then Ill dash off a letter home. Theres half an hour before we report to the chief stewardess.

I wonder if the folks will object? mused Sue as she sat down at the other side of the desk and picked up a pen.

Im going to tell mine that Miss Hardy felt it an excellent opportunity. They have great faith in her and Im sure theyll not protest.

Chapter Six
Westward Flight

It was shortly before five oclock when Jane and Sue reported to Miss Comstock at the office of the personnel director. By five oclock all of the girls who had been signed for the stewardess service were in the office and Miss Comstock spoke to them briefly.

When we arrive in Cheyenne, she explained, you will go through a two weeks training course which I will conduct. The purpose of this is to thoroughly familiarize you with your duties and to acquaint you with the special geographical features of the line for, as stewardesses, you must not only care for your passengers but be qualified to answer their questions. I can assure you that they will ask a great many. While in training at Cheyenne, you will make trips over the routes to which you will be assigned. Since the stewardess service is to become effective June 10th, you understand that we have much to do for I am counting on you girls making a fine record on the line.

As Miss Comstock finished speaking, a huge tri-motor rolled up on the ramp and Charlie Fischer stuck his head out to look for his passengers.

Our plane is waiting. Well have a late lunch in Omaha, said Miss Comstock. I suggest that on the way down you girls introduce yourselves to one another.

With the chief stewardess leading the way, the girls trooped downstairs. Just ahead of Jane and Sue were two girls about their own age.

They turned around and introduced themselves. The taller one was Grace Huston while the shorter one, a red-head, was Alice Blair.

We took our training here in the county hospital, said Grace. Are you from Chicago?

No, replied Jane. We flew in from University City this morning. We graduated just last night from the training school at Good Samaritan there.

Well, thats certainly fast work, smiled Alice. In less than twenty-four hours youre starting on a new career.

Twenty-four hours ago we didnt have any idea what we would be doing, confessed Sue.

Im excited about this position, said Grace. Think of the thrill of flying day and night through all kinds of weather!

Ive thought all about it, replied her companion, and it may be too thrilling once in a while, but its a job and a good paying one.

How do you like the uniforms?

Theyre fascinating, said Jane. I can hardly wait until they are delivered at Cheyenne.

Which reminds me, put in Alice, that Id like to know what Cheyenne is like.

Her question went unanswered for they had reached the tri-motor and Miss Comstock hurried her charges inside. Jane and Sue were fortunate to find a double seat and Grace and Alice sat directly behind them. The last of the girls baggage was placed aboard and the cabin door closed and locked. The big ship trembled as Charlie Fischer opened the throttle. Then it rolled smoothly down the ramp.

Other planes were being wheeled from their hangars and made ready for the overnight runs. The great airport was almost at the height of its daily rush.

Jane, next to the window, saw the dispatcher in his tower signal their pilot to go ahead.

The motors roared lustily and the plane shot down the long runway, lifted smoothly into the air, and started westward, boring into the setting sun in a slow climb.

Chicago faded behind them as they sped over the fertile farm land of Illinois.

Jane relaxed in the comfortable chair and closed her eyes. The nervous strain of the last few hours had been terrific and she welcomed the opportunity to rest and relax. Sue, likewise tired by the day, closed her eyes and both girls dozed.

They were over the Mississippi at dusk with the lights of Clinton, Iowa, visible to their right. Then the plane sped on above the rich acres of Iowa. Below them the headlights of automobiles dotted the highways and an occasional cluster of lights marked a village. Then a field blazed into blue-white incandescence and the beat of the motors slowed.

Miss Comstock came down the aisle and Sue asked her their location.

Were landing at Iowa City to refuel. Well stay there about ten minutes. You can get out and walk about the hangar if you like.

There were only a few people at the airport when the tri-motor rolled into the hangar and the girls stepped out of the cabin.

Im getting hungry and Omaha is a long distance ahead, said Grace Huston.

Theres a restaurant just a block away, by that old hangar, pointed out Alice. We could get a chocolate bar there. That should keep off the wolf until Omaha.

They agreed that chocolate bars would taste good and Alice, collecting a dime from each of her companions, hurried away toward the restaurant. When she returned, the candy bars were welcomed eagerly and when the girls stepped back into the plane they felt refreshed.

The floodlight opened up the night with its blue-white brilliance and the tri-motor rolled across the field and soared westward again. Miss Comstock came down the aisle with an armful of the latest magazines.

This will be one of your duties, she said as she offered them to Jane and Sue. The girls made their selection but Jane found her eyes too heavy for reading. She changed places with Sue and dozed again while her companion read.

At the end of another hour, the plane started bucking sharply and sleep became impossible for any of the girls.

Miss Comstock came along the aisle and spoke to each girl.

Theres a bad cross-wind. See that your safety belts are buckled securely.

The plane continued to bounce up and down, sometimes dropping for what seemed to Jane hundreds of feet only to bound upward again with a jarring shock.

Sue was white and perspiration stood out on her forehead.

I hope we wont have many trips like this, she gasped. Oh, I wish I hadnt eaten that candy!

Jane looked around to see how Grace and Alice were faring. Grace looked like a ghost, but Alice seemed unaffected. One of the girls at the rear of the plane became violently nauseated but Miss Comstock, cool and undisturbed by the rough weather, cared for her.

One thing Jane realized; they were all getting a thorough test of their weather ability on their first long flight.

The weather was rough all the rest of the way to Omaha, but after the first half hour, Sue recovered her equilibrium and managed to smile at the white face and tight lips of some of the other girls. Poor Grace was in agony most of the way.

Lunch is ready at the field restaurant, Miss Comstock announced when they rolled into the hangar at Omaha.

Various replies greeted her announcement. Some of the girls were ready to eat, while several could only groan at the thought of food.

Charlie Fischer climbed down and spoke to Jane and Sue.

A little rough the last hundred and fifty miles, he grinned.

It was more than a little rough, retorted Sue. It was terribly rough.

Say, that was smooth compared to some of the weather we strike west of here. Youve got lots of surprises ahead.

Ive had enough for one night, replied Sue, but maybe I wont notice it from now on.

Some people are all right after the first time and others never get over air sickness, replied Charlie cheerfully.

What a great help you are, countered Sue.

Im leaving you here. This is the end of my run tonight. Maybe youll be assigned with me when you go into active service.

If flying with you means weather like this, I hope not, smiled Jane.

Miss Comstock, anticipating that some of the girls might be air-sick, had ordered a light supper and only one of them, Pert Meade, who had been ill aboard the plane, was unable to enjoy the attractive meal.

It was eleven oclock when they re-entered the cabin, ready for the flight over the windswept Nebraska country. A new pilot, an older man than Charlie Fischer, was at the controls.

The girls took their places, fastened the safety belts, and the big ship roared away again.

The weather was still rough as they followed the Platte River valley, riding high above country along which the pioneers had struggled in the early days of the West. They were following the U. P. trail, but were covering in an hour a distance it had taken the first settlers weeks to traverse.

Jane looked at the air-speed indicator. They were traveling only a little more than a hundred miles an hour and she knew that the wind outside must be blowing a gale. Below them one of the department of commerce emergency landing fields, outlined with red, green, and white border lights, drifted by. She looked at the route map. The field must have been Wood River, just west and a little south of Grand Island. They were still another hour out of North Platte.

It was well after midnight and most of the girls were dozing. Jane looked around and saw Miss Comstock in the last of the single seats on the left side of the cabin. The chief stewardess was looking out the window, staring with a sort of desperate intentness into the night, and Jane wondered if there was anything wrong. She listened to the beat of the motors. They were running smoothly, with whips of blue flame streaking from the exhausts, and Jane concluded that she had been imagining things when she decided Miss Comstock was upset.

Several minutes later the chief stewardess hastened up the aisle and disappeared along the passage which led to the pilots compartment. She returned almost immediately and snapped on the top light, flooding the cabin with a blaze of brilliance. Just then the motor on the left wing stopped and Jane knew that something was decidedly wrong for the chief stewardesss face was pale and drawn.

Chapter Seven
Crash Landing

Jane shook Sue into wakefulness, and, cupping her hands so that only Sue could hear, said, Get the sleep out of your eyes. Somethings gone wrong. One motor has stopped.

Sue, thoroughly aroused at Janes words, rubbed the sleep from her eyes and sat up straight. Miss Comstock hurried down the aisle, shaking the girls into consciousness. Then she returned to the front of the cabin. The two other motors had been throttled down and by speaking in a loud tone, she could be heard by every girl.

We are about to make a forced landing, she began and as she saw quick looks of alarm flash over the faces of the girls, hastened to add, There is no need for undue alarm. I am sure no one will be injured for one of the most experienced pilots on the line is at the controls. Please see that your safety belts are fastened securely. Try to relax your muscles if that is possible.

The plane heeled sharply as a vicious gust of wind caught it and Jane looked out, hoping that lights of one of the emergency landing fields would be visible. Only a solid mass of black greeted her eyes and she knew that their situation was indeed dangerous. Had Miss Comstock only been talking bravely, attempting to reassure the girls?

Jane looked at her companions. Apprehension was written on the face of each one, but none of them was flinching, a tribute to the fine courage which their nurses training instilled. They were accustomed to emergencies, even though this one was more than they had bargained for on their first long flight.

Jane tried to analyze her own feelings, but found that there was a peculiar lack of emotion. There was nothing she could do to ease the situation. She looked at her companion.

Sue smiled back bravely and reached over and took Janes hand. It made them feel a little closer.

How far above ground are we? asked Sue.

The needle on the altimeter dial was jumping crazily and Jane shook her head. The air speed was down to eighty miles an hour and they seemed to be drifting into the wind.

Miss Comstock started to turn off the top light, but one of the girls asked her to leave it on. It was much easier sitting there with the light on than waiting for the crash in the dark.

Miss Comstock walked down the aisle and Jane marveled at her ability to remain so calm in the emergency. She admired the chief stewardess immensely for her control of her nerves, for Miss Comstock didnt appear to be more than three or four years older. She was a little shorter than Jane with a tinge of auburn in her hair and she was dressed in the natty smoke-green suit which was to mark the stewardesses of the Federated Airways.

Dozens of thoughts raced through Janes mind. She wondered what Miss Hardy would say when she heard about the accident and what her own folks would do.

Then Miss Comstock was beside her, speaking loud enough to be heard by all of the girls.

We are almost down, she told them. Please remain calm.

Jane wondered what Miss Comstock would do when they struck. There was no safety belt to keep her from being tossed about, for the chief stewardess remained in the aisle.

The landing lights on the wings were trying to bore into the night, but the air was filled with dust and Jane knew that the pilots were feeling their way down blind, hoping for a good landing.

Every girl sensed that the crash was near and Sue leaned her head over on Janes shoulder and closed her eyes. She had always looked to Jane for the final decision and now she turned to her for comfort and protection.

The plane lurched heavily and something ripped against the undercarriage. The lights in the cabin went out and Jane felt Miss Comstock pitched into her lap. In a flash she wrapped her arms around the chief stewardess and held her as tightly as possible.

There was the sensation of falling blindly into a great abyss and then came a jarring crash that seemed to split the cabin apart. After that there was a silence, broken only by the sobbing of the wind.

Jane felt the chief stewardess struggling to free herself from her arms.

Let me go, gasped Miss Comstock. Weve got to get out of here.

Jane released her hold and spoke to Sue.

Are you all right? she asked.

Except for still being scared half to death.

Other girls were moving about, unfastening their safety belts and trying to get to their feet.

The cabins on a sharp angle, Miss Comstock told them. Take off your belts, get down in the aisle on your hands and knees, and follow me to the rear.

Jane and Sue obeyed, with Sue directly behind Miss Comstock. Then came Jane with Grace Huston and Alice Blair following and the other girls behind them. No one appeared to be hurt except for minor bruises and bumps.

When they reached the door, which had been torn from its hinges by the impact, Miss Comstock cautioned them again.

Its about six feet to the ground. Slide over the edge and hang by your hands until your feet are on the ground. Then each girl wait until the next is down and well form a chain of hands so that no one is lost. Count as you come and well know when everyone is out.

Jane was the first one out and she cried, No. 1 out, in a loud voice. Girl after girl called out their number as they scrambled down out of the wreckage until every one was outside.

Still holding hands, Miss Comstock led them away from the plane as Jane wondered about the pilots. The wreckage was at least fifty yards behind when Miss Comstock paused.

You girls wait here. Im going back and find the pilots.

She started back alone, but Jane slipped out of the group and joined her.

You cant go alone, she said. If theyre trapped, maybe I can be of some help.

Go back, Jane, ordered the chief stewardess. Theres the gasoline. Smell it? The wreckage may catch on fire at any moment.

Thats just why you need me, insisted Jane.

Miss Comstock hurried on. Jane was determined and there was no time to waste in argument.

The tri-motor had landed on a hillside, first striking a fringe of trees which had wrecked the undercarriage and then skidding along the hillside until the nose had dug into the ground, flipping the tail into the air at a crazy angle.

The pilots cockpit appeared badly smashed, but as Miss Comstock and Jane approached, a man crawled out of the wreckage. It was the co-pilot, badly battered and only half conscious.

Slims in there, he gasped, pointing back at the smashed cockpit.

Miss Comstock lunged ahead, tearing at the wreckage, hunting for Slim Bollei, the chief pilot. The smell of gasoline was doubly strong and Jane realized their grave danger, but she never wavered in following the chief stewardess.

They found the chief pilot jammed behind the control wheel.

You take his shoulders while I try to free his feet, ordered Miss Comstock. Working swiftly, they managed to lift the pilot clear and Jane was thankful that he was slight in stature. It would have been impossible for them to carry a heavy man.

They staggered away from the wreckage just as a tongue of flame leaped along the remains of the right wing.

Hurry, gasped Miss Comstock. Weve got to get farther away.

The co-pilot tried to assist them, but he was too weak to help.

Take care of yourself, Miss Comstock told him. Well get Slim away.

The flames spread rapidly and by the time they reached the crest of the hill, the wreckage was an inferno of fire with roaring, twisting flames leaping into the heavens. Jane shuddered and closed her eyes and the other girls huddled close together.

This is no time for anyone to have hysterics, said the steel-nerved Miss Comstock. She turned to the co-pilot. Did you get a message out that we were crashing? she asked.

Yes, but I dont know whether it got through. The static has been terrific for the last hour.

Where are we?

Somewhere between Wood River and Kearney and a little south of the line. The Platte cant be far south of us.

I dont care where the Platte is. I want to get to a phone and find a doctor for Slim and report to the line, snapped Miss Comstock. She turned to Sue and Alice.

You girls take charge here. Do what you can for these men while Jane and I start out to see if we can find a farmhouse with a telephone.

Leaving the other girls on the hilltop, Miss Comstock and Jane plunged away into the night. The chief stewardess strode rapidly, and Jane found it difficult to keep up with her,

Perhaps a farmer will be attracted by the flames, she gasped as they topped another hill.

Its not likely. If the co-pilot was right, were in a rather desolate spot just north of the river. Well keep going and see what we can locate.

For half an hour they plodded steadily ahead until they struck a dirt road running at right angles to their own course.

Well turn to the left. At least well be going toward Kearney, said Miss Comstock.

They trudged a mile down the road before they came to a farmhouse. A dog greeted them with lusty barks and the farmer threw up a window on the second floor.

Whats going on out there? he cried.

Were stewardesses on the Federated Airways, Miss Comstock shouted. Our plane crashed about an hour ago in the hills over toward the Platte. Weve got to get to a phone so we can call a doctor and inform the line about the accident.

Come right in. Ill be down in a minute.

A light flashed in the room upstairs and the farmer, dressing hastily, hurried down.

Miss Comstock almost rang the telephone off the wall in trying to arouse the operator on the rural line, but at last got her call through to the field at Kearney and told the night man there what had happened.

The farmer supplied them with directions for the field relief crew and the Kearney men promised to arrive with a doctor within the hour. The farmers wife hastened down and insisted on making coffee and sandwiches.

Was anyone badly injured? she asked.

The chief pilot is hurt, but I dont know how seriously, replied Miss Comstock.

But isnt it dangerous for girls like you to be flying in those airplanes? asked the farmers wife.

It was tonight, smiled Miss Comstock, but as a rule it is as safe as riding in a railroad train and much safer than traveling in an automobile. What do you think about it, Jane?

I think its thrilling, but the crash tonight will be enough to last me for the rest of my life, she replied.

It will probably be the first and last one youll ever have. Flying is getting safer every day. You certainly had your baptism under fire the first night out.

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