Ruthe Wheeler.

Jane, Stewardess of the Air Lines

Chapter Eight
Winning Their Wings

The crew from the Kearney field arrived in a large truck and trailing them was an ambulance with a doctor and two nurses. The farmer joined the party and helped guide them to the shivering group on the hilltop north of the Platte.

The wreckage of the tri-motor had long since ceased to glow and the wind whined dismally through a low growth of underbrush. Sue was the first to reach the truck and Miss Comstock fairly leaped after her.

Hows the pilot and co-pilot? she asked, anxiety making her voice sound unnatural.

Theyll come through all right, said Sue. I think the pilot has a slight concussion and his right arm is broken. The co-pilot is only suffering from shock and bruises.

And the girls?

Theyre all right. When the fire died down a bit, several of them even tried to get close enough to salvage some of the mail, but the flames leaped up again and forced them back.

The flyers were carried to the waiting ambulance and that vehicle soon lurched away over the uneven ground.

The crew from the Kearney field had brought powerful electric torches and with these they made a thorough survey of the tri-motor. It was a charred mass of twisted steel tubing, little resembling the proud ship which had bucked the storm a few hours before.

The company can write about $80,000 off the books, growled the manager of the Kearney field. I wonder how it happened?

The left wing started to flutter, said Miss Comstock. I could tell from the vibration of the ship something was wrong and when I went up into the cockpit Slim Bollei told me we were in a jam. He was afraid the wing was going to tear loose so he cut the left motor. With the wind bad and the wing loosening up more every second we were in the air he had to hunt a place to set down quick.

Well, he sure put this crate down for keeps, grunted the manager. Guess we might as well start back to the field and Ill write up a report of the accident.

The girls piled into the big truck, Jane and Sue sitting at the very end with their feet hanging over.

What a night, said Sue as the truck moved away from the scene of the accident. For a while I was afraid I wasnt going to live through it.

Im still shaky, confessed Grace Huston, who was just behind them.

It wasnt pleasant, admitted Jane, but were all lucky to be out alive and with the pilots only slightly injured. However, as Miss Comstock says, this will probably be our first and last crash and it might as well come early.

When they reached the Kearney field, Miss Comstock got in touch with the operations manager at Cheyenne and informed him that another plane would be needed to take her charges to Cheyenne.

It was daylight when Cheyenne finally came back with flying orders. A special plane was being ordered out of Omaha to take the girls the remainder of the distance.

Well have several hours here, Miss Comstock informed them, so Ive chartered several cabs to take us uptown for breakfast.

Well go to the hotel, clean up and relax. Lunch will be in Cheyenne.

They were about to leave the field when a young man hurried up.

Im the Associated Press correspondent here, he explained, and Im looking for the stewardess in charge.

Miss Comstock stepped forward. What can I do for you? she asked.

The reporter grinned. Just tell me all about the accident. Ive got the pilots names from the hospital and a few details, but Id like to have all of the facts.

Jane was surprised when Miss Comstock told him everything about the accident.

Please say that the new girls were especially calm and cool-headed in their first emergency, she said. If it had not been for the assistance of one of them I fear the pilot would never have been pulled out of the wreckage before the plane caught fire.

The reporter insisted on having Janes name.

This will make a great human-interest story, he exclaimed as he hurried away.

Miss Comstock turned to the girls.

Thats a little lesson in public relations, she said. The policy of the line is to tell the newspaper people the truth. If you try to hide or distort facts, the reporters will learn part of them in some other way and it is much better to have the truth sent out in the first place.

After breakfast at the hotel, Jane and Sue went into the writing room.

Im going to write my parents about everything that happened last night, said Sue. Then they wont worry when they read the newspaper stories.

Jane agreed that it was a splendid idea and they passed half an hour at their letter writing before Miss Comstock came in to inform them that it was time to return to the field.

As they reached the airport a tri-motor swung in from the east. It swooped low over the field and an arm was flung out of the cockpit in a friendly greeting to the girls who were standing beside the hangar. The tri-motor nosed around into the wind and dropped down to an easy landing.

When it stopped in the hangar, the pilot stuck his head out of the cockpit.

Hi, there, he called to Jane and Sue. I hear you won your wings last night. It was Charlie Fischer, who had flown them from Chicago to Omaha the night before.

You mean we had them clipped and singed, retorted Jane.

Charlie climbed down from the cockpit.

Hows Slim Bollei? he asked.

Just a slight crack on his head, said Sue. I hear that they select men with hard heads for pilots.

Ouch! grinned Charlie. Im going to wear armor the next time I talk to you.

You neednt. I dont even bite.

The pilot turned to Miss Comstock.

Get your cargo aboard, he said, and well take off in about five minutes. They routed me out at Omaha and started me west before I had time to get anything to eat. Well start as soon as I can rustle a cup of coffee and a sandwich at the shanty across the road.

By this time the girls had become fairly well acquainted and already little groups were being formed. Jane was pleased that Alice and Grace had personalities that fitted in so smoothly with her own and Sues. There would be much to learn and much to do in the coming weeks and it would be much pleasanter getting accustomed to the new environment if friends were near-by.

The air was cool and sweet. The wind had subsided and there was no trace of the terror it had wrought the night before as the girls took their places and fastened the safety belts around their bodies.

Charlie Fischer, still munching a sandwich, hurried into the hangar, signed the gas and oil record book, climbed into his cockpit and gunned the motors. The big biplane rolled smoothly ahead, turned its nose into the wind, and started climbing skyward. They were off on the last lap of their trip to Cheyenne.

Chapter Nine
At Mrs. Murphys

Jane had secretly wondered just how she would feel when the plane soared into the sky. After the experience of the night before she feared that a numbing fright might grip her and she was greatly relieved when there was no feeling of apprehension.

Instead, she thoroughly enjoyed the smooth upward flight, the pulsating power of the great motors, and the panorama unfolding beneath. She turned to look at Sue. Her companion was gripping the arms of her chair tightly, her eyes bright and staring straight ahead. When Jane started to speak to her, she shook her head, but Jane watched Sue closely for the next few minutes.

Gradually Sue relaxed and a little later she leaned over and spoke to Jane.

I was fighting down a little bugaboo of fear, she grinned. I knew if I didnt conquer it all by myself, Id never be able to do it. Now Ill never be afraid to fly anywhere and anytime.

Jane thought that statement was a little bold, but she hoped it was true.

Keeping to the right of the broad Platte, they sped westward with the speed indicator wavering between 115 and 120 miles an hour for there was only a slight head wind dropping down from the far-away Rockies.

North Platte appeared ahead and Jane consulted the map of their route. North Platte was a regular passenger stop, but they were running as a special, and the plane dropped over the southwestern Nebraska city. Here the Platte forked, one branch swinging northwest while the South Platte continued almost straight west.

The shining steel of the Union Pacific rails caught the sunlight far below and Jane saw the smoky plume of a transcontinental limited threading its way westward. The plane soon overhauled the train and left it far behind. They were too high for any of the girls to wave. The country became rougher, more desolate, and the few farms looked drear and beaten down by the buffeting of the elements.

They passed north of Sidney and not long afterward Jane knew they were in Wyoming.

It was just north of Pine Bluffs that Jane got her first glimpse of the Rockies. The air was clear and the visibility excellent. Far away to the west and south she saw the snowy summit of what she was later to know as Longs Peak and other lesser mountains reared their heads into view.

Jane touched Sues arm, and called her attention to the beauty of the distant scene. Together they watched, breathlessly, the great vista of the mountains.

It was not long after that until a good-sized city came into view to their left and Jane, looking at the altimeter, knew the plane was nosing down. This, then, must be Cheyenne, the chief operating base for Federated Airways transcontinental line and the city which was to be the headquarters of the stewardess service.

The tri-motor swung over the sprawling, one-time pioneer city and dropped down on the airport, which was a little more than a mile north of the city.

Jane was astounded by the size of the field and the largeness of the hangars which flanked the side nearest Cheyenne. At first glance it seemed almost as large as the field at Chicago.

They rolled into an immense hangar, behind which towered the brick building which housed the administrative offices of the Federated Airways. It was here that Jane and Sue were to go to school before they went into active service.

Miss Comstock led them through the waiting room, into the administration building and down to a new, one-story wing which had just been completed. Drawing a key from a pocket, she unlocked the door and turned to the girls.

This new wing was built especially for the stewardess service. There is a classroom, a complete kitchen and commissary, lockers, lounging room and shower. Im sure youll like it.

Jane stepped into the lounging room. It was delightfully furnished in wicker and the walls were a soft grey with rose-colored drapes at the full-length windows which looked out upon the field.

The commissary, lined with cupboards for the storage of supplies, was in silver and blue, and arranged to gladden the heart of any girl. The sinks were of stainless steel and the large tables at which the lunches would be prepared were of a similar material.

They went on to the classroom, which reminded Jane of a similar room she had attended so many times at Good Samaritan. A score of study chairs were in the room and one whole wall was given over to a blackboard while on another wall was complete map of the entire Federated Airways system.

Well have our first class right now, said Miss Comstock, since I want to give you instructions on obtaining rooms in Cheyenne.

The girls sat down, Sue, Alice and Grace grouped around Jane.

As you know, headquarters of the stewardess service will be here, went on Miss Comstock, and you are to regard Cheyenne as your home. It will be necessary for you to find suitable rooms and you will be required to pay for these out of your regular salary. However, when you are at the other end of your trip, the line will see that you are properly domiciled.

She paused for a moment as she picked up a sheet of paper from her desk.

I have made a survey of rooms in Cheyenne, she continued, and have approved all of the rooms listed below. They are in excellent homes, the rates are reasonable and I am sure you will find any of them pleasant. I want you to take the remainder of the day to locate your rooms and see something of Cheyenne. Well start actual classwork tomorrow morning at nine oclock. Now, if you will consult me individually, I will make room recommendations. Cars owned by the line will take you into the city.

Jane turned toward Alice and Grace.

I think it would be nice if we could obtain two large rooms and you two would live with Sue and me. It might cut down our room rent and with four of us living together, some one would be home most of the time.

My vote is yes, replied Grace.

You can make it unanimous, smiled Alice. I only hope well be assigned to about the same runs so we can be at home at the same time.

When Miss Comstock called her name, Jane stepped forward and explained their plan.

Of course I have no objections, said the chief stewardess. She looked at the list of prospective rooms on the sheet of paper in her hand.

I think I have just the rooms for you. Mrs. Dennis Murphy has two fine rooms and a sleeping porch adjoining. She is a widow and anxious to get roomers.

Miss Comstock wrote Mrs. Murphys address on a slip of paper.

Go there first. If you dont like Mrs. Murphys, telephone me here and Ill give you some more suggestions.

The girls found a field car waiting outside the main entrance of the administration building and the driver sped them toward the city.

Mrs. Murphy lived on a side street in a square, two-story frame house. The yard was well kept and a broad, shady porch ran the full length of the front of the house.

Ill wait until you know whether youre going to stay, said the driver.

Jane seemed to be the self-appointed leader of the group and she hurried up the walk and knocked at the screen door.

Come in, called a cheery voice from somewhere in the interior. Jane hesitated for a moment.

Go on in, Sue urged, so Jane opened the door and crossed the porch.

Im in the kitchen with me hands in bread dough, explained the voice, in a rich, heavy Irish brogue and Jane knew that Mrs. Murphy in person was at home.

A long hallway led past the living room and the dining room into the kitchen, a large well-lighted room.

Mrs, Murphy, buxom and ruddy of cheek, looked up as Jane entered. Her hands were deep in bread dough.

Well, goodness sakes alive, she exclaimed when she saw Jane. If Id known it was a stranger, Id have answered the door. I thought it was Mrs. McGillicuddy down the street, come to borrow something, for shes always running in of a morning, being short of this or that, and having to have a bit to get along until the delivery boy gets around.

Oh, thats quite all right, Mrs. Murphy, smiled Jane. Im one of the new stewardesses for the Federated Airways. There are three other girls here with me. Were looking for two double rooms and Miss Comstock at the field recommended you.

Now thats right nice of her. She was here last week looking at my rooms and seemed to like them real well. If youll wait a bit until I finish kneading down the bread, Ill take you right up. Just make yourselves at home on the porch.

Jane rejoined her companions and informed them that Mrs. Murphy would be out as soon as the bread was safe.

Sue looked around the porch. Everything was well-worn but comfortable.

After three years in a hospital this is luxury, she said, sinking down into a broad rocker.

From the little talk I had with Mrs. Murphy in the kitchen and the smell of things cooking in her oven, I think this will be a grand place to live, said Jane.

Maybe well be lucky enough to get some fresh bread and have bread and sugar, suggested Grace, looking longingly toward the kitchen.

In less than five minutes Mrs. Murphy, wearing a fresh apron, appeared from the dim shadows of the hallway. Jane introduced each of the girls.

Im happy to know you, Mrs. Murphy told them, and they felt that she really meant it. There was something homey and warm about Mrs. Murphy that touched the heart of each one.

She led the way upstairs and to the rear of the house where two adjoining rooms opened onto a large sleeping porch. The rooms were large and airy, the beds were comfortable and the furnishings, though plain, were adequate.

From the porch there was an excellent view of the distant mountains. Mrs. Murphy explained that the bathroom was just down the hall and that her only other roomer was the cashier of a downtown department store.

The telephone, ringing insistently, summoned Mrs. Murphy downstairs and gave the girls an opportunity to talk about the rooms.

Jane went back to the sleeping porch to enjoy the view of the mountains. Her mind was made up and she was quite willing to stay with Mrs. Murphy.

There isnt a whole lot of closet room, said Grace, and the furniture is rather plain.

But the rooms are large and pleasant and the sleeping porch will be grand, said Sue.

Alice, who had been exploring the bathroom, brought back good news.

The bath is fine. Lots of room, a huge tub with a shower, and two lavatories with plate-glass mirrors.

Then I call for a vote, said Sue.

Mine is yes, said Jane, returning from the porch. Grace, Alice and Sue added their approval as Mrs. Murphy came puffing upstairs.

We like the rooms, Jane told her. How much is the rent?

Ive been getting $40 a month, said Mrs, Murphy, but times as they are, Ill rent them now for $32. That would be $8 apiece and, of course, theres the privilege of doing your laundry in the basement.

How about meals? asked Alice.

I havent been taking boarders for a year, but I guess I havent lost my hand at setting a good table. It could be arranged.

Then I think the price for the rooms is fair enough, said Jane. A driver with a field car is outside. Well bring up our bags and our other luggage will have to be shipped in later.

By the time they had unpacked their bags, it was well past lunch time and the delicious odor of freshly-baked bread floated upstairs from the kitchen.

That makes me realize that Im really hungry, confessed Sue. I wonder how far it is to the nearest restaurant.

From below came Mrs. Murphys pleasant voice.

Lunch is on the table, girls. Its not much, but it will save you a trip down town.

They trooped downstairs to find the dining-room table set with appetizing food. There was a large plate of bread, so fresh from the oven it was still warm, and a bowl of honey. Wisps of steam ascended from a large platter of hash at one end of the table while at the other was a bowl of fresh cottage cheese. A glass of milk was beside each plate and a platter filled with fruit centered the table.

This is grand of you, Mrs. Murphy, said Sue.

Im going to have bread and butter and sugar, cried Grace. Its been ages since Ive had a treat like that.

Mrs. Murphy eased her motherly bulk into the chair at the head of the table and smiled happily at the evident relish with which the girls ate lunch. There was no question about their having found pleasant quarters for their home while in Cheyenne.

Chapter Ten
Janes First Call

The following days were busy ones for Jane and her companions. Long hours were passed at the field in the classroom and in the commissary where the girls underwent an intensive period of training.

Miss Comstock was an exacting teacher, but a fair one and she was almost universally popular with the girls. Only one, Mattie Clark, seemed to resent the strict discipline which the chief stewardess imposed.

Mattie, a black-haired, dark-eyed girl, answered Miss Comstock sharply on several occasions. Once the chief stewardess reprimanded her recalcitrant pupil before the entire class. Later Mattie vowed that she would gain revenge.

What do you think of Matties attitude? asked Sue as she stood outside the administration building with Jane, Grace and Alice.

Its only going to cause trouble for Mattie, replied Jane. Miss Comstock is fair. Shes got a hard job in preparing a bunch of new girls for this work, but I think shes doing it well.

She gets pretty cross at times, put in Alice.

You would, too, if you were asked as many dumb questions as she is, retorted Jane.

Just then Mattie joined them. She was still resentful over the reprimand from the instructor and was grumbling to herself.

That skinny piece of baggage isnt going to bawl me out in front of the class and get away with it, she told them, her black eyes snapping. Ive got some pull in the Federated Airways front office and Im going to use it. Maybe Miss Comstock will be working for me some day.

Well, what do you think of that? asked Sue as Mattie left them.

Matties partially right. That is, she has some influence in the Chicago office. Her uncle is publicity director for Federated, but I dont believe shell ever be able to cause Miss Comstock any real trouble, was Janes opinion.

Mattie has dreams of being chief stewardess, explained Grace. She told me the other day that she could certainly do a better job of handling this group than Miss Comstock.

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