Ruthe Wheeler.

Jane, Stewardess of the Air Lines





The day chief of operations at Newark came up.

Theres a sound crew from a news reel outside. They want you to pose and say a few words. Its good publicity for the line.

Jane was glad that it was almost time for the plane to depart, for facing a movie camera was a real ordeal. Her mouth went dry and chills ran along her back as the sound man held the microphone close. Somehow she managed to say a few words, and then she hurried back to the 8:18. Two minutes later the big tri-motor was roaring west, and late that night Jane would be back at Cheyenne.

There was a strong headwind and they seldom got above a hundred miles an hour, with the result that they were more than an hour late when they reached Chicago.

Jane changed planes there and had a lunch at the field. Then the tri-motor sped westward again. There was a light passenger list, only nine aboard the fourteen-passenger craft, and none of them recognized Jane, for which she was grateful.

Night came as they roared over the rich farm lands of Iowa and from Omaha west, Jane dozed, lulled by the rhythmic beating of the three great engines.

The wind increased in force as they neared the Rockies, and the speed was well under a hundred an hour. As a result, it was nearly three oclock when the lights of Cheyenne showed far ahead, under the left wing. Jane roused herself and straightened her uniform. She wondered if the girls would be at the field.

The big plane glided noiselessly out of the night into the glare of the floodlights. When it rolled into the hangar Jane peered anxiously toward the waiting room. Sure enough, Sue, Grace and Alice were there, all of them fairly dancing in their anxiety to greet her.

The young stewardess was first out of the tri-motor, and she ran to meet her friends.

Hello heroine, said Sue, as she threw her arms around Jane in an affectionate embrace.

Welcome home, added Alice, while Grace added, lets see what the New York papers said about you.

Miss Comstock, who had been in the background, came up and greeted Jane warmly.

Youve done a wonderful piece of work for the stewardess service, she said. Mrs. Van Verity Vanness sent the general manager a long telegram today, highly recommending the service and especially complimenting you. Im sure that as a result of your outstanding work, were all assured of jobs for a long time to come.

But I didnt do anything unusual, protested Jane. I simply did my job as I had been trained to do it, in the hospital and here at the field. It was nothing more than what will soon be routine to every one of us.

Not every one of us will have bandits attack our plane the first time were out, nor will we be carrying a woman who can sign her name to a check for a million dollars and know that she can cash it, put in Grace.

Jane looked at her wrist watch. It was just three oclock.

Wed better hurry home if we plan to get any sleep tonight, she said.

You can go home, said Grace, but Alice and I are ordered out on the eastbound mail.

Its coming through in two sections from the coast this morning, and will be here in another fifteen minutes.

Then Ill stay and see you off, said Jane. Fifteen minutes, more or less, wont make much difference at this time of night.

Miss Comstock was busy in the commissary, checking supplies which were to go aboard the eastbound planes and the girls all lent her a hand.

They plied Jane with questions about the trip, the encounter with the bandits, and how she had gotten along with Mrs. Van Verity Vanness.

Shes an old dear, said Jane. I dont care what the newspapers say about her, she certainly treated me splendidly, and just as we got to New York she invited me to accompany her as nurse and companion. Shes planning a round-the-world trip as soon as her son recovers.

And you turned that down?

I should say I did. Why, I wouldnt trade this job of mine for almost anything else in the world. Youll feel the same way before youre half way through your first regular flight as stewardess. Theres a thrill to flying that cant be found in anything else.

Im willing to be shown, said Grace.

The planes from the west came in on time, both of them loaded to capacity. New crews took over the controls at Cheyenne and Grace and Alice stowed the food away in the pantries. They checked their passenger lists and when the planes were refueled, called their passengers aboard.

Good luck, called Jane and Sue as they stood on the ramp and watched the big ships wheel out of the hangar. Then the planes roared away into a greying sky, which heralded the coming of another dawn.

A field car was available to take them to town and Miss Comstock joined them.

Are you going to come out and see every ship off? asked Jane.

I should say not, but with all of the girls assigned to go out within the next 24 hours, I want to see that they get started right. After that, theyll be on their own.

What assignment do we get? asked Sue.

You will be on the Night Flyer while Jane is to take the Coast to Coast Limited. Youll go out tonight, while Janes first trip is tomorrow morning.

Then Ill plan to do plenty of sleeping in the next few hours, said Sue. The Night Flyer means a slow trip to Chicago for it stops at every airport.

Mrs. Murphy heard them come in, and appeared with her hair done up in curl papers and a faded kimono wrapped around her ample bulk. She insisted on going down and fixing a lunch, and over the kitchen table Jane spread out the New York papers. They read the stories, in great detail, and Mrs. Murphy appeared immensely pleased at the great publicity given to Janes fine work.

I could tell the minute I laid eyes on you, that youd be a winner, she said proudly. Now youd best both be off to bed, for its circles youll be having under your eyes if you dont.

They thanked Mrs, Murphy for the lunch and hurried upstairs to undress and crawl between crisp, cool sheets just as the sun came over the horizon.

Mrs. Murphy came in later and adjusted the curtains on the porch, and the girls slept until mid-afternoon.

Sue, about to make her first flight alone, was nervous and excited. She fussed over the way her uniform fitted her trim figure and worried about what she would do if any of the passengers became ill.

Just forget youre in a plane and think about ward duty back in Good Samaritan, then youll know what to do, advised Jane.

They had supper with Mrs. Murphy and then a car from the field called for them. The Night Flyer was due at ten oclock, but Sue had at least an hours work in the commissary and she wanted to have plenty of time.

Miss Comstock, looking rather worn and tired, was still on duty and Mattie Clark was also at the field, looking very neat and business-like in her uniform.

Theres two sections tonight on the Flyer, Mattie informed Sue. Im going out on the first section and youll take the second.

Sue is assigned on the first section, said Miss Comstock, who resented Matties infringement of her authority. You take No. 2.

But I want to be in Chicago early, protested Mattie.

Both ships will be there within five minutes of each other. Besides, Sue is to be on the Flyer regularly, and she might just as well get acquainted with the regular pilots who are on that run.

Mattie was silent, but it was obvious that she was anything but pleased at Miss Comstocks decision, and Jane knew more than ever, that Mattie was going to cause trouble for everyone else in the ranks of the stewardess corps.

Chapter Sixteen
Through the Fog

The first section of the Night Flier came in from the west three minutes ahead of schedule and with a capacity load. While the passengers stretched their legs and visited about the flight over the mountains from Salt Lake, Sue stowed her kit away in the pantry.

With departure time at hand, she forgot the nervousness which had gripped her earlier and became a calm, self-contained nurse.

The best of luck, whispered Jane as she squeezed her friends hand.

Sue herded her passengers into the cabin and closed the door. The landing stage was wheeled away and the Night Flyer lumbered out of the hangar on the first lap of the long flight to Chicago.

Jane watched the lights of the plane until they were pin-points in the east.

It was Sues task to make her passengers comfortable for the night and she went along the aisle, adjusting seats, turning off lights, and bringing out the thick, warm blankets from the supply closet. In half an hour she had the task completed and only one passenger, an elderly man, had elected to read, selecting a Cheyenne paper with the latest news.

As they sped east, Sue wondered at her own nervousness which had been so evident before the flight. Now everything seemed so matter-of-fact. She felt as though she had been flying for years.

A woman who had come through from Frisco was getting off at North Platte and Sue roused her just before they swooped down on the field. In ten minutes they were away again, with a radio order to stop at Grand Island to pick up a passenger for Chicago and another coast passenger would disembark at Lincoln.

The Night Flyer made most of the local stops, and as a result was anything but popular with the pilots. Most of the new men on the line drew the thankless job of piloting the Flyer, and the crew of Sues ship had been on only a little more than a month.

With a fair tail wind, they kept on time despite all of their stops, and they soared away from Omaha and over the muddy Missouri a few minutes after two a.m. with a new crew of pilots up ahead. The stewardesses made the entire trip from Cheyenne to Chicago, but the pilots changed at Omaha, unless piloting a special.

It was over this stretch of the line that Jane had encountered the thrilling experience which had brought her front page fame in every newspaper in the country and Sue looked out, halfway in the hope that something unusual enough to bring her fame, would happen.

But her hopes were doomed, and they went into Des Moines on time. The only field they missed was at Iowa City, and they sped over that one shortly after sunrise.

East of the Mississippi, they lost the sun in a murk of smoke and fog.

Sues light flashed, and she went forward to answer the call from the chief pilot.

Weather around Chicagos bad, he said. We may not be able to get through, so stall the passengers off if they get anxious about the time were due in Chicago.

But what will I tell them? asked Sue.

Thats your job. All I do is run this crate.

Like Jane, Sue was finding out that pilots who on the ground were the pleasantest and most friendly flyers, were more than likely to be martinets when they were at the controls of a big passenger plane.

Sue took the rebuff good naturedly. Of course it was her job to keep the passengers from being alarmed.

Franklin Grove was the last of the emergency landing fields she saw, before the soup swallowed them and they looked out into a solid wall of rushing grey, so thick it almost hid the wings.

Passengers looked anxiously toward Sue, and one or two of them summoned her. To their questions, she replied as truthfully as she could that they had struck a bit of bad weather, but that the radio beacon was guiding the pilot and they expected to soon be out of the fog and into clear weather.

That explanation satisfied them for the first half hour, but after that Sue found herself in trouble and a rising fear gripping her own heart. The questions the passengers asked were more difficult to answer.

Why werent they out of the fog? They were late now getting into Chicago. Did the pilot know where he was? Why couldnt they land and wait for the bad weather to clear?

Sue answered them as best she could and tried to remain calm, putting on the best professional manner of a trained nurse.

Her signal light glowed again and she went forward. The chief pilot looked years older.

Were in trouble, he told her frankly. Ive lost my radio bearings and the gas is getting low. Have your passengers fasten their safety belts and see that there is no smoking. If we crash we dont want any extra risk of fire.

Sue returned to the cabin, hoping desperately that her face would not give away the gravity of their situation when she asked the passengers to put on their safety belts. She went from one to another, adjusting the belts, and informing them that they were about to land, but she didnt add that it was likely to be a crash landing. When everyone was fastened to the seats, Sue reported to the chief pilot.

Get back in the cabin. Were going down, he said curtly.

Sue watched the altimeter.. The needle dropped gently from the 3,000 feet at which they had been flying, but the wall of fog still enveloped the earth.

They nosed through it carefully, the air speed cut down to a hundred miles an hour. Even that speed was a terrific one at which to crash into the ground. Sue was too busy thinking about her passengers to sense her own emotions.

For five minutes the pilot groped his way down and suddenly the nose of the big ship shot through the fog. The plane flattened out 200 feet above the ground and skimmed along over farmhouses with the motors roaring heavily.

Suddenly the ship heeled over and for a sickening instant, Sue thought they were crashing until she caught sight of an airport and knew the pilot was sliding in for a fast landing.

As the plane touched the ground the motors sucked the last fuel from the tanks. The tri-motor rolled up to the hangar and Sue looked at the name painted above the large doors. They had come down at Joliet, nearly thirty miles south of their course.

The pilot came back.

Weathers still bad around Chicago, he announced. Well have taxis here in a few minutes to take you in.

Sue helped her passengers collect their hand baggage and sheperded them into the taxis. In half an hour the last one was safely away for Chicago, and Sue had time to sit down and have a little cry all by herself.

They remained at Joliet until mid-afternoon, when the fog cleared and they hopped the short distance to the field at Chicago. It was then that Sue learned that the second section of the Night Flyer was down at Sterling, Illinois, with the weather west of Chicago still foggy and little chance of it clearing before mid-evening. Sue could imagine the wrath of Mattie Clark, who had been anxious to reach Chicago that morning.

Sue went to the office of the personnel director to be assigned quarters while in Chicago and learned that the line had leased two apartments nearby which would accommodate eight girls. They could cook their own meals there or go out to restaurants as they preferred, since the lines only obligation was to domicile them while at the Chicago end of their runs.

I talked with some of the passengers who came as far as Joliet with you, said the personnel chief, and they gave me some fine reports of your calmness. I feel that I owe Miss Hardy at Good Samaritan a letter of real appreciation for the girls she recommended.

After leaving the personnel office, Sue looked at the bulletin board. The Coast to Coast Limited with Jane aboard would be in at five oclock and she decided to wait for her.

Sue enjoyed a late lunch at the restaurant and then walked out on the ramp to watch the arrival and departure of the planes.

A crimson monoplane was being loaded for a run to Kansas City, while a trim, blue biplane was waiting for four passengers for Detroit. It all seemed so matter-of-fact, and Sue knew that after her flight through the fog that morning she would never again be afraid of flying.

Chapter Seventeen
An Ultimatum to Mattie

Sue met Jane when she stepped off the Coast to Coast Limited and together the girls went to the apartments which had been leased by the air line. They were in Chicago for the night. Sue booked out early the next morning and Jane later in the day.

Grace and Alice, also in Chicago, had been down town shopping that afternoon, but they all met at the apartment. There was an attractive kitchenette, but the girls were tired and they had dinner at a nearby restaurant. Later they walked to a neighborhood movie where they enjoyed the feature program.

When they returned to the apartment, Mattie Clark was there, still mad at the long delay which had kept her away from Chicago.

Imagine having to stay out at the emergency field at Sterling almost all day, she stormed. She turned on Sue angrily.

If you hadnt been so pig-headed back in Cheyenne, Id have been on the first section and at least arrived during the daytime.

You can thank me you werent on the first section, replied Sue calmly. We got lost and were coming down for a crash landing when the fog cleared at Joliet and we sneaked down there. I was scared to death.

Mattie looked at Sue skeptically.

You dont seem to believe me, said Sue.

Well, its a good story, said Mattie.

Janes anger had mounted steadily and it got away from her.

Thats enough, Mattie. We might as well have it out right now. I think youre mean and small. Youre doing everything you can to make it unpleasant for Miss Comstock, and now youre insulting Sue, because you know Sue is too even-tempered to fight back. Now just get out of here and after this keep out of my way.

Mattie was furious and her face flamed with anger, but before she could reply, Alice stepped in.

What Jane said goes for Grace and me, she said. The less we see of you, the better.

Youll all be sorry for this, flared Mattie as she slammed the door and went into the apartment across the hall.

Im sorry this had to happen, Jane told the others, but Mattie is out for trouble and shes going to get it. From now on keep your eyes open, for shell trick you if she can.

The stewardesses soon settled into the routine of the flights from Cheyenne to Chicago and return. It was interesting, pleasant work.

Jane banked the money she had received from the New York paper and from Mrs. Van Verity Vanness and when Charlie Fischer asked her if shed like to take lessons in flying, she had the money necessary.

Charlie had a biplane at Cheyenne and between flights with the huge Federated planes, amused himself by hopping around the countryside and giving lessons to whatever pupils he could pick up. Of the stewardesses, Jane was the only girl who decided to take lessons.

Whenever she and Charlie were at Cheyenne, he took her up for flights, explaining the principles of aeronautics and letting her get the feel of the plane. One afternoon they flew to Denver and back, and on another occasion, went to Laramie.

Jane was blessed with air sense. When she had her hands on the control stick, she could almost anticipate every movement of the plane and Charlie praised her aptitude warmly.

The days rolled into mid-summer and July in Cheyenne was hot. It was refreshing to seek the coolness of the upper air in the late afternoon and Jane spent as much extra time aloft as she could afford. Then came the afternoon for her solo flight. The government inspector arrived and took his place in the rear cockpit.

Charlie Fischer looked up and grinned.

Just forget the guy back there, he said, and youll get along fine.

Janes throat tightened. Going up with a government inspector was quite different from going up with Charlie,

She opened the throttle and the biplane shot across the sun-baked field. Jane was glad the other girls were out on the line, for it would be embarrassing to come down and face them if the inspector should turn her down.

She lifted the biplane into the air and got altitude in easy circles over the airport. Then she started through the routine. As the thrill of the flight got into her blood, she forgot the inspector in the rear cockpit and gave her every energy to piloting the plane. With grace and skill, she directed the maneuvers until the inspector reached ahead, tapped her on the shoulder, and nodded toward the ground.

Jane cut the motor and they drifted down. Charlie Fischer was the first to reach the plane.

How about it? he asked the inspector.

Just about perfect, smiled the government official.

Then Ill get my license? Jane asked breathlessly.

Theres no question about that. Im giving you an exceptionally high rating. Your license will be through shortly.

It was another ten days, before the precious card with her license arrived from Washington and Jane showed it proudly to her roommates.

Its nice, admitted Sue, but what on earth will you do with it? You havent a plane and you cant afford to rent Charlie Fischers.

I honestly dont know, confessed Jane, but I wanted it. Some day Ill be glad that I have the license and the ability to fly a plane.

Mattie Clark was still causing trouble. Any other girl who so rankly showed her insubordination would have been fired within a week, but the fact that Matties uncle was a company official saved her time and again. She knew she was treading on thin ice, but she seemed to take whole-hearted enjoyment in making Miss Comstock and the other girls miserable. Jane was her special hate.





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