They finished the lunch just as the horn of a taxicab squalled in the street below.
“There’s your cab. It’s a fifteen-minute ride to the airport. You’ll have to hurry.”
Miss Hardy handed the letter of recommendation to Jane, who folded it and placed it in her purse. They hurried downstairs, the girls carrying the small week-end bags with them.
Miss Hardy walked to the cab with them. Farewells were brief.
“I know you’ll both make good,” said Miss Hardy. Then she turned and hurried back inside the sheltering walls of Good Samaritan.
The cab lurched ahead, gaining speed rapidly as the driver headed for the airport.
Jane and Sue settled back on the worn leather cushions. In another half hour they would be aboard an eastbound transport plane, speeding toward Chicago. Their hospital days were definitely behind them and new careers, holding the promise of great adventure, were ahead.
The cab sped through the sleeping city. The business district was soon left behind and the paved road bordered the Wapsipinicon river, which skirted the south edge of University City. The road swung across the river and ahead of them gleamed the red, green and white lights which marked the boundary of the airport of Federated Airways.
The taxi slowed and drew to a halt in front of the administration building. The driver helped Jane and Sue from the cab. Jane opened her purse to pay the fare from her slender funds, but the driver waved the money away.
“Miss Hardy at the hospital said to charge it to her account,” he said, and Jane and Sue were given another glimpse of the warm heart which beat beneath the grim exterior of the supervisor of nurses.
The driver led them into the waiting room and left their bags there. Jane looked around. It was her first visit to the administration building, although she had been at the field a number of times.
The waiting room was furnished with modernistic wicker pieces. Soft tan drapes were at the windows and a rug of tan and black squares covered the floor. At a large table in the center was a neat stack of magazines while at a buffet along one wall was a silver tea service.
The ticket office opened to the right and Jane stepped up to the window. The night manager looked up from his desk.
“We are the nurses from Good Samaritan that Miss Hardy phoned about. We’re to go out on the eastbound plane for Chicago,” she explained.
The night manager swung around to his ticket rack and made out the passes for their transportation to Chicago. He was efficient but pleasant.
“You’ll have to sign permits releasing the system from liability in case of accident. Of course this isn’t required from regular passengers, but you are traveling free.”
Both Jane and Sue signed the papers he placed before them.
“I’m making out round trip passes,” he said. “In case you don’t get the jobs, you’ll be able to get back here.”
Jane wasn’t sure there was much consolation in that for there was probably more chance of getting a job in Chicago than in University City.
The night manager stepped into the dispatcher’s office to inquire the position of the eastbound plane.
“Your ship will be here in about nine minutes. How about baggage?”
“We have small pieces,” replied Sue.
The baggage was weighed, checked and placed on a small cart to be wheeled into the hangar when the plane arrived.
The dispatcher stuck his head out of the operations room.
“Charlie Fischer wants the flood light,” he said.
Jane wondered who Charlie Fischer was and just why he wanted the flood light, but to the field manager that message appeared important for he hurried into the hangar. A moment later a flood of blue light illuminated the field and the drone of engines could be heard.
Lights flashed on in the hangar and Jane and Sue left the waiting room. Two stars appeared to be descending out of the west and the hulk of a great tri-motor biplane drifted into the brilliant light of the field.
The plane settled gently and rolled smoothly along the crushed-rock runway. Its motors boomed as the pilot swung it into the hangar.
Jane and Sue looked at the big ship apprehensively. It didn’t seem possible that the three motors could lift the great plane off the ground and hurl it through the air at two miles a minute.
The ground crew wheeled the portable steps up to the cabin and the pilot and co-pilot came down. They were young, clean-cut chaps.
The pilot hastened into the operations room to obtain the latest reports on the weather between University City and Chicago while the co-pilot supervised the refueling.
Jane saw the baggage cart wheeled alongside the plane and their bags disappeared into the forward hold. Then the night manager was at their side.
“You have seats eight and nine, which places you together on the right side of the ship. This way, please.”
The girls followed him across the concrete floor and into the spacious cabin. Lights inside were turned low for several of the passengers were dozing.
Jane was amazed at the roomy interior. Along the right side was a double row of comfortable reclining chairs, very much like those in a railroad coach. There was a single row along the left side, with the aisle running the length of the cabin. Overhead were baggage racks for parcels and wearing apparel and there were individual lights for each chair.
A shaded light in the bulkhead ahead revealed two dials, one marked air speed and the other altitude. A door led forward to the baggage and pilot’s compartment while a door at the rear opened onto a tiny pantry and a lavatory.
Jane counted the seats. There was room for fourteen in the cabin and counting themselves, twelve passengers were now aboard.
Chairs eight and nine were almost at the rear of the cabin and Jane and Sue settled into the seats. The night manager handed them each a small, sealed envelope.
“Here’s your traveling packet of gum and cotton. Better put the cotton in your ears. The noise is a little bad the first few minutes. If you think the altitude will affect your ears, chew gum while you’re going up. Will you want a blanket so you can sleep?”
“I should say not,” replied Sue. “I’m going to see everything there is to see.”
The pilots re-entered the plane and walked up the aisle to disappear through the forward door. The cabin door was closed and made fast and the three motors came to life with a thundering roar. The big ship vibrated strongly as one motor after the other was tested until the chief pilot was sure they were ready for the four-hour flight to Chicago.
The huge biplane moved slowly as the pilot taxied it out of the hangar. Then the tail was flipped around and the plane headed down the long runway.
The night was shattered with the powerful beat of the engines and blue tongues of flame licked around the exhausts of the wing motors.
Sue, who was next to the window, reached over and gripped Jane’s hand. Both girls had stuffed cotton in their ears and both were chewing energetically on the gum.
With rapidly increasing speed the plane rolled down the smooth runway. The ground flashed by at an amazing speed and before either Jane or Sue realized it, the transport was winging its way over the edge of the field.
The flood light below came on, outlining the entire airport with its penetrating brilliance. The pilot banked the great biplane gently and headed away into the east.
The roar of the motors filled the cabin but, by leaning close, Jane and Sue were able to talk.
“Scared?” asked Jane.