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. You’ve got lots of surprises ahead.”
“I’ve had enough for one night,” replied Sue, “but maybe I won’t 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.
“I’m leaving you here. This is the end of my run tonight. Maybe you’ll 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 o’clock 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 stewardess’s face was pale and drawn.
Jane shook Sue into wakefulness, and, cupping her hands so that only Sue could hear, said, “Get the sleep out of your eyes. Something’s gone wrong. One motor has stopped.”
Sue, thoroughly aroused at Jane’s 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 Jane’s 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 didn’t 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.