Ruthe Wheeler.

Jane, Stewardess of the Air Lines





For five minutes she fended off the questions of the newspapermen, answering those she was free to.

Better look out for the aerial bandits, they warned her. Think of the ransom they could demand if they captured your passenger?

Havent they been captured? asked Jane.

No. They vanished after bringing down the mail plane in southeastern Iowa. The last report said that they had been heading west. Of course, that was early yesterday. Theyve landed at some out of the way field.

Jane thanked the reporter and turned back to the tri-motor, glad to get away from her questioners lest she show them how much she was disturbed. With the newspapers now broadcasting the cross-country dash of the wealthy Mrs. Van Verity Vanness, Jane knew that the special was not safe with the aerial bandits still at large.

Chapter Thirteen
The Black Plane

Just before the tri-motor wheeled off the ramp at Omaha, the radio operator at the field hurried up with a message. It was from New York, informing Mrs. Van Verity Vanness that her son was slightly improved and was looking forward to her arrival at his bedside.

The little woman of the many millions looked at Jane through tear-dimmed eyes.

Hes my only son, she said. He means so very much to me.

Jane nodded. She could understand, for in her years of training at Good Samaritan she had seen mother love put to many a severe and heart-breaking test and she knew how deep in a human soul it penetrated.

Reassured that her son was not losing ground, Mrs. Van Verity Vanness dozed again as the plane raced over western Iowa.

Jane went ahead to the pilots cockpit and leaned close to Charlie Fischer.

The airplane bandits are still at large, she told him.

I know it, he said. We got a special warning at Omaha. A strange ship was sighted over the Des Moines field half an hour ago and it answered the description of the bandit craft. Two army planes that were making an overnight stop at Fort Des Moines have gone up to see if they can trace it.

Keep a close watch. Ive got nearly a billion-dollar piece of humanity in the cabin.

Orders are to land if we run into trouble.

But that would mean the capture and holding of Mrs. Van Verity Vanness for ransom, protested Jane.

Thats better than having us all shot down, snapped Charlie. You just mind things in the cabin and Ill run this end of the ship.

Well, said Jane with finality. If I were a pilot and a bandit plane attacked me, Id give them a real race before I landed.

Charlie started to reply but the co-pilot grabbed his arm and pointed over to the right. The lights of a plane, coming rapidly toward them, were plainly visible.

Charlie looked at them for a second and then snapped off the wing lights of his own plane. Get back into the cabin and turn off the lights there, he roared at Jane. Here comes trouble.

How do you know? asked Jane.

Theres no other ship but our own on this division tonight and those lights coming toward us arent the riding lights on a night hawk.

Jane departed on the run, and snapped off the light in the cabin.

It would be dawn in another half hour, but for the coming thirty minutes the tri-motor, running without lights, had a chance of escaping the other plane.

The motors labored under a full charge of gas as the big ship rocketed along at 170 miles an hour. Once or twice the needle on the speed dial mounted above the 170 mark, but Charlie couldnt hold it there.

Jane watched the lights of the other plane. They didnt appear to be any nearer. Perhaps the bandits, after spotting their quarry, would be content to wait until dawn and then make a quick thrust.

The stewardess wondered if the pursuing plane was radio equipped for even as she left the pilots cockpit, the co-pilot had been pouring out a warning of their danger.

It was nerve-racking business as Charlie Fischer piloted the tri-motor with all of the skill of his big hands. In and out of clouds they dodged, now at 8,000 feet, and again at 6,000, but always the relentless pursuit was with them. The sky lightened and Jane knew that the crisis was near. She wanted to go ahead and talk with Charlie and the co-pilot, but she didnt dare leave her passenger.

Mrs. Van Verity Vanness yawned and threw off the blanket which had shielded her shoulders. She sat up and looked out into the gray light. Jane answered her summons.

Were having company, said Mrs. Van Verity Vanness, pointing toward the other ship, a black biplane, which had drawn near.

Jane didnt dare tell her the truth about the other plane.

Just some pilot up early, she said lightly, but her heart was far from feeling that way.

Their own plane dove sharply, and Mrs. Van Verity Vanness gasped and clutched the arms of her seat.

The morning air is a bit rough at times, explained Jane reassuringly, but she knew all of the time that the quick dive had been a maneuver of Charlies to give them more time. She wondered about the army planes which had taken off from Des Moines. If their radio was working, they should arrive soon.

The pilot of that planes acting queerly, said Mrs. Van Verity Vanness. He seems to be waving at us.

The light was better and Jane looked at the black biplane. Mrs. Van Verity Vanness was right. They were being waved down and Janes heart went sick as she saw the snout of a machine gun sticking over the nose of the other craft. If Charlie refused to comply with the order, it was plain they would be the target for machine-gun bullets.

Jane looked at the altimeter with sinking heart. They were down to 7,000 feet and dropping lower steadily. She scanned the country below for some sign of a city. There were plenty of small towns within range, but no large ones where an adequate police force could be assembled to aid them.

Mrs. Van Verity Vanness did not appear alarmed. Charlie stalled at 5,000 feet and Jane saw the pilot of the other plane wave at them angrily.

It was agonizing, for Jane knew that once they were on the ground there would be no chance of escape. Her passenger would be whisked away in the black plane, to be held for a fabulous ransom and a desperately ill man in New York would be without the sympathy of his mother at his bedside to help him through his illness.

They were down to 3,000 feet and Charlie Fischer was hunting a good place to set down when death roared down out of the sky.

Two army planes, their machine guns spitting flame, hurled themselves at the black biplane.

Motors roaring wide open, pilots tense at the triggers, the avenging army craft arrived just as Charlie nosed the tri-motor down for a landing.

Mrs. Van Verity Vanness watched the scene with startled eyes and Janes heart pounded doubly fast.

The bandit plane was trapped between the army ships. Bullets ripped through the wings of the black craft as the pilot tried desperately to maneuver into position where the gunner in his forward cockpit could get his weapon into action.

What does it mean? gasped Janes passenger.

Its a bandit plane that shot down a mail ship early yesterday in southeastern Iowa, explained the stewardess.

But why was it following us? This plane had no mail.

It had you, which was vastly more important.

Ransom?

Jane nodded.

How long have you known we were in danger?

Ever since we caught sight of the black plane. We had a description of it at Omaha and were warned by radio to be on the lookout.

But you didnt say a word to me.

There was no need to alarm you.

The army planes were closing in on their quarry, darting in and out as the pilots directed blasts of fire at the bandit craft. The aerial desperadoes knew that they could hope for no quarter and they made one final attempt to escape, heading their plane in a mad dive toward one of the army ships.

But the dive laid them open to the fire of the second army flyer, and he plunged down from above, his machine gun spitting flame. Bullets traced through the wing of the black biplane, shattering the propeller. Then the left wing of the biplane tore loose and the ship fluttered aimlessly for a moment before nosing down for the final plunge.

Mrs. Van Verity Vanness cried out in horror and Jane placed her hands over the older womans eyes. Finally the passenger turned from the window and looked at Jane.

Youre a brave, sweet girl, she said. Now I think Ill rest again.

Neither one mentioned the aerial duel they had witnessed as the special roared on to the pace of its quickened motors.

Jane prepared breakfast and while her passenger sipped the hot chocolate, the stewardess went up to the pilots cockpit.

Some dog fight, said Charlie Fischer. Those army boys showed up just in time.

I suppose I should say it was terrible, said Jane, but knowing what those bandits would have done to my passenger, I feel they got just what was coming to them.

They had time to repent all of their sins on the way down, admitted Charlie. Say, were skipping Des Moines. Got plenty of fuel to take us to Iowa City.

When they landed in the eastern Iowa city, another message from New York reassured Mrs. Van Verity Vanness and she read most of the way into Chicago.

When they rolled up to the ramp of the Chicago field, Jane suggested that her passenger step out and walk a bit.

Youll feel much better, she assured her.

Mrs. Van Verity Vanness agreed and Jane assisted her out of the plane. Reporters were clamoring at the gate, but a cordon of police kept them from the field.

Charlie Fischer grinned as he went by.

Im going over and be a hero, he chuckled, nodding toward the cameramen and reporters, who were hungry for the story of the escape from the bandits.

The short, stocky figure of Hubert Speidel, personnel director of Federated Airways, emerged from the crowd and came toward them. He beckoned to Jane and she left her passenger for a moment.

Everything all right? asked the personnel chief anxiously.

She seems to be enjoying the trip now, replied Jane, but she wants a stewardess to continue with her.

Just then Mrs. Van Verity Vanness took matters into her own hands.

I presume you are a company official, she said, addressing the director. He nodded.

Please inform your general manager that I insist upon this young woman accompanying me to New York. She has done everything possible to make me comfortable and without her assistance I would have been unable to continue from Cheyenne.

But Miss Camerons division ends here, protested the personnel chief. Well have to put another stewardess aboard here.

I dont care a snap about divisions, said the woman of millions. I want this stewardess. Remember, there are other lines east of Chicago.

The personnel director promised to do what he could and hastened away. He was back in less than five minutes.

Its a little irregular, he said, but Miss Cameron can go through to New York with with you.

Fresh supplies were brought out and placed in the pantry, Jane checking each item, for they would have lunch at noon aboard the plane and possibly a light supper just before they reached New York.

A new crew of flyers took charge and exactly fifteen minutes after landing, the special roared away, with an entire nation watching its progress, for newspaper presses were spewing out extras by the thousands, telling the story of the attempt to abduct Janes passenger.

Chapter Fourteen
Page One News

The day was clear and warm, a beautiful June-time, and the special was soon speeding over the flat country of northern Indiana. There was only one stop scheduled between Chicago and New York, that at Cleveland, where the tanks would be filled with fuel.

Jane prepared an appetizing lunch and Mrs. Van Verity Vanness ate it with evident relish as they skirted the south shore of Lake Erie. That over, she insisted that Jane explain how she had happened to join the air line.

The elderly woman was a good listener and Jane told in detail of her last day at Good Samaritan and how Miss Hardy had recommended her for the position with the Federated Airways.

Id never heard of stewardesses on the planes until you came aboard at Cheyenne, said Mrs. Van Verity Vanness. Have you been flying long?

Jane smiled for her passenger was going to be in for a surprise.

This is my first regular trip, she confessed. All of the girls go into service tomorrow.

Then I predict a fine future for you. Why, I thought you were a veteran of hundreds of miles of flying.

It was a sincere compliment and Jane glowed inwardly. She had been so anxious to make a good impression on her first flight.

At Cleveland another message from New York reassured Mrs. Van Verity Vanness and again she was shielded from reporters. No one was allowed out on the ramp, but cameras clicked as Jane stepped out of the cabin for a breath of air. Then they were racing eastward again, with the next stop the Newark airport.

They flew high over the rugged Alleghenies and then dropped down over Jersey toward the metropolis. The end of the long flight was near and Jane felt greatly relieved.

Mrs. Van Verity Vanness summoned her as they swung over the Newark airport.

Wouldnt you like to join me, traveling as my nurse and companion? she asked.

It was a question that left Jane speechless. She had never considered such a possibility.

As soon as my son is well, I plan to leave on a round-the-world trip. We would be gone a year.

It was a tempting offer, almost irresistible, but the zest of flying was deep in Jane and she shook her head.

I dont believe I would be happy leaving the air line now, she said. There seems to be a real future for girls in aviation and I want to make the most of my opportunity.

The other woman sighed. I was afraid that would be your answer and you are probably right. But Ive grown dreadfully fond of you. If there is anything I can do at any time, dont hesitate to call on me.

Thank you, said Jane.

The plane rolled to a stop in the Newark hangar of the Federated line and a huge limousine with two motorcycle officers flanking it, drew up to the cabin door.

Goodbye, my dear, said Mrs. Van Verity Vanness as she stepped into the limousine to be whirled away toward New York to the tune of screaming sirens.

Jane was a little breathless. It had been such an exciting trip all the way from Cheyenne. Now she wondered just when she would start back. An official hurried toward her.

Reporters are almost tearing the waiting room to pieces, he said. They couldnt see Mrs. Van Verity Vanness but they insist on talking with you. Youd better tell them what happened this morning.

But I dont know what to say, protested Jane.

Just answer their questions.

In the waiting room a dozen men of assorted ages, and three women, awaited Jane. The moment she entered they started firing questions at her.

How had Mrs. Van Verity Vanness acted when the bandit plane swooped down on them? How had Jane felt? What had she served her passenger at mealtime? Had Mrs. Van Verity Vanness commented on the financial situation?

It was a steady barrage and Janes head whirled as she tried to answer them all. Finally she threw up her hands and sank down in a chair in despair.

Cant you see Im all tired out? she cried. Please let me alone.

She buried her head in her arms and her body shook with the sobs of nervous exhaustion for the strain of the long flight and caring for the wealthy passenger had been more than Jane had realized.

Shes a plucky kid, she heard one reporter say as the newspaper people trooped out of the room.

In a few minutes Jane felt more composed and she went into the operations office.

What time do I start west? she asked the chief dispatcher.

All of the space is taken until the 8:18 west in the morning. Youd better take a cab to a hotel and get some sleep.

Then Jane remembered that she was without funds. It was their first pay day in Cheyenne, but she was hundreds of miles from there.

I guess Ill just wait here until the plane goes, she said.

The dispatcher was busy and failed to notice Janes fatigue or he might have guessed that she was in an embarrassing situation. Jane washed her face and hands and walked outside to watch the sun go down behind the Jersey hills.

She was hungry, but the tri-motor she had come in on had been trundled away to a distant hangar and there was little chance that she could find it and rummage through the pantry for anything to eat.

Jane skimmed through the magazines in the waiting room and selected one on aviation. She had hardly settled herself when a young woman burst into the room.

Wheres Jane Cameron? demanded the newcomer.

Im Jane Cameron, replied the stewardess.

What a break! Im Ruthe Harrigan, special writer for the New York Globe. Late as usual in getting my assignment. Afraid I had missed you. How about your story? Sold it to anyone yet?

Why, no, stammered the surprised Jane. I talked to a number of reporters but they didnt say anything about paying me.

They wouldnt, snorted the newcomer. Lets hop outside and get a bite to eat. Then well make a deal for your first-person story of the battle with the bandits.

Ruthe Harrigan led Jane to a comfortable restaurant only a block from the hangar and after sizzling steaks had been served, plied Jane with questions.

Im after a first-person story of what happened on your trip in, she explained. Well pay you well for permission to use your name above the story.

But what would Mrs. Van Verity Vanness and company officials say?

Ill call the Federated publicity office, said the energetic Ruthe. Jane talked to the New York publicity head of Federated, and he approved of the story. Another call to Mrs. Van Verity Vanness brought her consent.

Make them pay a good price, she advised Jane.

Dinner over, they hastened back to the Federated hangar where the reporter borrowed a typewriter. Now tell me everything that happened and how you felt.

But we havent agreed on a price, said Jane.

How about $50?

That doesnt seem enough. Wont this be front page news?

I should say it will. Every other New York paper will probably turn green with envy.

Then $50 isnt enough.

I might be able to get $100, urged the reporter.

Dont take less than $500, advised the night dispatcher. If the Globe wont pay it, call some of the other papers. They will.

In desperation, Ruthe Harrigan called her editor and before Jane gave her a line of copy, a check for $500 was in the hands of the stewardess.

It was more money than Jane had ever had before and she fingered the check carefully. Now she could go to a hotel, have the finest room, enjoy the choicest food, and still have what to her was wealth.

For two hours Ruthe Harrigan plied her with questions while she beat a heavy tattoo on the typewriter. When she was through she had nine pages of copy to send to her office.

Its a good story, smiled the reporter, even if you did make us pay through the nose for it.

Jane cashed her check at the field and had it converted into travelers checks of small denominations. Then she took a taxi to a recommended hotel and by 11 oclock was sound asleep, while across the river in New York the presses of the Globe were rolling out her own story of the encounter with the aerial bandits.

Chapter Fifteen
Hello Heroine

Jane was up at seven the next morning and a few minutes later, went down to breakfast. In the lobby she purchased copies of all of the morning papers and went into the grill for breakfast.

An excellent picture of herself stared up from the front page of the Globe and underneath the picture was a two column headline informing Globe readers that they were about to read Jane Camerons own story of the battle with the bandits.

Jane flushed and looked up to make sure no one had recognized her. But there were only a few at breakfast at that hour and she read the story from opening paragraph to the final dash. Jane had to admit that Ruthe Harrigan had done an excellent job of writing. The story was thrilling, from start to finish.

After breakfast Jane bought half a dozen copies of the Globe, paid her hotel bill, and took a taxi to the field. A pass was ready for her and the 8:18 was on the line, warming up for the trip west.

A messenger approached Jane with a message and she signed for it. Inside was a brief note from Mrs. Van Verity Vanness expressing her appreciation and with it a check, a little token of my gratitude, wrote Janes passenger. The stewardess eyes blinked as she looked at the check. It was for one thousand dollars!

Janes knees felt weak and she grasped a nearby handrail for support. A thousand dollars! Why, it didnt seem possible. But it was possible, for a thousand dollars was only pin money to the millions which Mrs. Van Verity Vanness controlled.

Jane felt almost uncomfortably rich. There had been $500 for selling the story and now the thousand dollar check. She had spent less than $10 for her room, breakfast, taxi fare and the papers. Why she would have at the very least $1,490 when she returned to Cheyenne. It seemed unbelievable but she had the checks.





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