THE RELUCTANT BUSH PILOT
A girl has her pride. She can't chase a man when he acts like a rabbit hypnotized by a serpent — a blond lady serpent
A GIRL can chase a man just so far before she gets mad. I wasn’t through with Melville, I was just tired of running after him. Melville’s indifference would have been easier to take if Pop had given me a little support. You’d think a father would be concerned when his only daughter was practically dying of a broken heart.
“Forget the big dope,” Pop would say. “There’s a million like Melville.” Pop enjoyed the subject. He’d lean his elbow on the engine he was overhauling and wave his box wrench as he warmed up. “Don’t I know ’em! A pair of silver wings tucked into the glove compartment along with the logbook. A four-place cabin job they’ll own outright if they ever make the last forty-nine payments. And a line of guff as smooth as the runway yonder . . .”
But Pop’s not being fair about Melville. Melville fits all the other specifications but Melville’s no dope. He climbed out of his plane here a few months ago, and got a look at the green of the trees reaching out for that sunshine. He took a longer look at the snow-capped mountains rising like a stupendous barrier out beyond the runway markers and walked in to hit Pop for hangar space and fifty gallons of high-test on credit. Two weeks later he had a sign lettered on his plane, “Melville Ryan, Flying Pack Train,” and was setting down sportsmen in a mountain meadow he discovered up at the nine-thousand-foot level.
A man like Melville doesn’t creep up on you gradually. One minute the most absorbing thing in the world seems to be the adding up of gas receipts, deducting therefrom the taxes, and distributing same to separate columns of the ledger. The next minute you look up to find a lanky individual in flying coveralls lounging in the doorway of the operations office, swinging from his index finger a pair of polaroid sports goggles. He’s watching you curiously and your heart does three frantic bars from the “Anvil Chorus,” complete with accompaniment of cymbal, sackbut and kettledrum.
IT WASN’T any time before I realized how indispensable I was to Melville. It still thrills me, but lately I’m wondering if I’m not getting a polite pushing around.
“Be a darling, Julie,” he says, and inside I go all hippety-hop. “Run my car into town for a lube job? I’ve got to hump over to Bishop for a passenger . ..” Or, “If you’re my true love, Julie,” he says as he dumps a bundle on my desk, “you’ll drop off my laundry in town? I’m late flying in some rations to those hunters up at the camp . . .”
I ought to shove his laundry down his throat. But I don’t, because the minute he takes off I miss him so badly I could do every shirt myself and love the job.
A few days ago Melville went away on business. He’s due back anytime, so instead of finishing up my tax reports I’m moping around the hangar and Pop is getting wise. Pop disconnects the carburetor from a private plane a rancher has brought in for tuneup and plumps it down on the work bench.
“I’d say from the signs,” Pop begins and looks at me over the tops of his glasses, “that Melville is shortly going to arrive.”
I was just going to shrug my shoulders when my ears caught the beat of the engine. Pop walked over and snapped on the receiver. The loudspeaker began to crackle the way it does out here on a hot day. Suddenly the shop was full of Melville’s voice.
“Hi, little earth-bound people there below! Look who’s flying like the birds. Watch me, darling, no hands!”
From her boots to the stem on her beret I hated her.
Pop snatched up the mike. “It ain’t darling,” he roared. “And don’t you collapse that crate on the runway. The northbound Valley Airways is due in five minutes. You drop down pronto and park over on the apron . .
The rest is drowned out by chaotic thunder as Melville buzzes the hangar, chandelles up off the field and circles for his landing. Just like he’s expecting, I’ve got my nose pressed out of shape against the window while I watch him.
I’m the dope.
THE Valley Airways passenger plane followed Melville in to the field. This field is a regular stop and we always hustle when a Valley Airways plane drops in. It’s only a short-haul feeder line, working the spots where the big airlines don’t bother stopping. Just the same, profits mount up when a DC-3 services at your ramp twice a day. So I trotted down to the operations office, plugged in the coffee and phoned town for a taxi to come out for the passengers.
The DC-3 landed while I was phoning, and first thing I knew there were footsteps outside the door and the pilot stuck his head in.
“Julie Gates!” he said, and I jumped.
I hadn’t seen Cork Jones for months and he’d grown a mustache. Ordinarily I don’t care for
little whiskers with spiked ends but on Cork they looked good. I told him so.
Cork grinned. “I raised ’em to impress you.” He sat down on the edge of the desk and helped himself to a cup of coffee. “Listen, Julie. I’m only going as far as Bishop. I can borrow a ship there and be back here by six. You get the old man’s car and I’ll drive you in to Lone Pine to the movies . .
I started to explain about Melville and how I was practically engaged almost. But Cork held up his hand.
“No time for objections,” he said. “New company rules. Ninety seconds on the ground for a passenger stop. So if you say ‘Yes’ real quick, you’ll be expediting transportation.”
I don’t know what I would have said to Cork. I always liked him a lot. But anyway just then I caught sight of Melville coming up from the apron, looking as usual very preoccupied with himself. If Melville was annoyed because I was engaged in conversation with another man he sure hid it.
“Say,” he said as I introduced them, “when’s that jerkwater airways of yours going to put hostesses aboard for the amazement of us bush pilots out in the sticks?”
Cork stood up and put on his cap. “As far as I’m concerned,” he said and grinned at me, “the sticks are perfect, just as is.”
Melville looked puzzled as Cork started back
to his plane. “What’s wrong with him?” Mielville said.
Nothing, I felt like replying. He’s just observant enough so a girl doesn’t have to clout him over the noggin to be noticed. Sometimes I think Pop is right and Melville is a dope.
Melville dismissed Cork with a shrug.
“Listen, Julie, I lined up something important.” Melville sounded a little excited. “A party of two coming up day after tomorrow. One of them is chairman of the Sportsmen Club, and if he likes the fishing he can shoot me more business than I can handle. But look, Julie”—at this point he looked earnestly into my eyes and I could feel I was about to be pleasantly imposed upon— “everything’s got to be just right. I need somebody to handle the kitchen end? If you could sort of come along with us and do the cooking . . .”
I love cooking for a bunch of fishermen. They wolf down anything you put in front of them and tell you it’s wonderful. But the best part was listening to that little note of urgency creep into Melville’s voice. I moved a bit closer and held up my face the better to hear him, and also just in case he broke his all-time record and decided to kiss me.
But Melville, darn him, has a one-track mind.
“I’m going up to the camp right away,” he said.'
“The last guys left it looking like a bear’s been hibernating in the cabin.”
“Then I’ll see you this evening,” I said.
Melville shook his head. “I better stay up at camp. Too much to do. First thing in the morning ...”
I walked down to the hangar with him. I didn’t say anything. I was too busy wondering how to go about reminding a man in a nice way that just three days ago he made a definite date to take me out tonight.
Pop came out of the hangar wiping his hands on a piece of waste. We watched Melville wind up and take off.
“I see Cork Jones is back on the Valley Airways run,” Pop said, trying to make it sound very apropos of nothing. “I always liked Cork. Doesn’t talk too much. Businesslike. Steady job, too.”
“Cut it out, Pop,” I said. “You know Cork never meant that much to me. You stop riding Melville, too. He’s okay. Look at all the work he’s done fixing up his camp. Look how he lines up business for himself . . .”
Melville has a nice setup and he thought it all up himself. It used to take two days of hard packing to get a party up into the mountains. Melville flies you in in twenty minutes. He’s built three’'little log cabins with stone fireplaces, and by next winter he’ll be able to handle skiers too. As Mel ville says, a
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sportsman will go a long way looking for recreation, but he’ll come offener if he has a comfortable place to stay.
Pop sort of sighed as I finished. “Julie,” he said, “you sure got it bad.”
BY SIX O’CLOCK that evening I was making up the list of groceries to take up to camp. I know what men want. Steak and beans and coffee and hot biscuits. Hearty food. 1 was just figuring out how much I’d need when I heard a plane coming in. For a second l thought Melville had finally remembered about his date with me and had returned just in time. But it wasn’t Melville. It was Cork Jones flying a borrowed sport plane, and when 1 saw him 1 just thought to myself that it served Melville right for standing me up.
1 don’t recall what the movie was in Lone Pine, but I remembered I enjoyed it. Even though 1 spent half the time untangling myself whenever Cork put his arm across the seat. Cork was sure persistent. On the way home 1 told him so.
“Listen, Cork.” I said. “I like you and I think your new mustache is very distinguished. But remember that you’re not out on company time to-
night. Just take it easy, Cork, and you can continue to count me among your friends.”
Cork was repentant. “Let’s talk it over Saturday. That’s my day off’. I can borrow the plane again ”
“I’ll be working,” 1 said. “Cooking for a couple fishermen up at Melville’s camp.”
“Fine. I’ll fly up there.”
“If you do I won’t see you. Now listen, Cork, I’m going to be busy . . .” But as I said, Cork is the persistent type.
Y NOON the next day Melville still hadn’t come down from camp. I was standing on the apron when Cork put down the southbound Valley Airways plane. Cork hopped out and waved a newspaper at me.
“Read all abaht it,” he said, and pointed a finger at a paragraph in the society section. “Old Flying Pack Horse has been making a name for himself in the hot spots.”
1 don’t like gossip columns and I don’t credit everything I read in the papers. But there it was in black and white and what is a girl going to believe?
“. . . At the Troc Wednesday night, Desi Allison had Mel Ryan in tow . . . the fishing season has started again . . .”
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I didn’t believe it and 1 said so. Wednesday was the day Melville was in the city on business.
“Some business!” Cork said. Then 1 suppose he saw how I felt. “I’m sorry. Julie,” he said, and I knew he meant it. “I didn’t quite understand . . .”
“It really doesn’t matter,” I said.
OH, NO. It doesn’t matter a bit.
Just fluff it off. It’s only Melville Ryan you’re reading about, the man you’re so crazy about it makes you ache to think of him. Just Melville, in tow of—whatever that implies—Desi Allison. And who’s she? A quiet, home-loving little thing you read reams about every time she gets married. Three times so far. Be sensible now, does that sound like competition?
You bet it did.
That night, lying in my bed, I went over everything sensibly. A girl can make a braying jackass out of herself by poking around where she’s not wanted. The best thing—the only thing— I decided before I fell asleep was to just act aloof with Melville.
NEXT morning at breakfast Pop suggested I go a step farther.
“Give him the old heave-ho,” Pop said heartilv. “He can get along without you. I’ll lend Melville a hand with the baggage when she arrives this afternoon . . .”
“She?” I said. “Who’s she?”
Pop looked genuinely startled, but I don’t always trust Pop. “Didn’t you know? It’s funny Melville didn’t tell you. Well, it seems that the sportsman Melville is taking up to the camp is Mr. Norton, the president of Valley Airways. And Mr. Norton is bringing with him none other than his daughter, Desi Allison.”
How do you like that!
“Well!” I said. “If I’d known for a second when Melville asked me to go up there to cook that it was that woman . . . Well!”
“I’ll tell Melville you’re not going,” Pop said.
“You’ll do no such thing. I wouldn’t miss this for anything.” If Melville was going to make a fool of himself over that woman I’d like to know who has a better right than 1 to watch him do it.
Är TWO-THIRTY as I was driving into the airport I saw Melville standing in front of the hangar watching the charter plane come in from the south. The plane set down, ran clear to the far end of the field, blew its tail around and rolled back to the ramp.
You may be sure 1 hadn’t the slightest interest in watching the door swing open, the pilot jump down and hand his passengers out. So if l stopped to stare, it was only because that woman had on the most darling suit of ski togs I’ve ever seer. But what really got me as Melville loped out to grab at her suitcase was that Desi Allison didn’t just look stunning, the way she does in the supplements. She looked better than that. And from her boots to the stem of her beret I hated her.
1 had my own baggage to think of. 1 remembered crossly, and I picked it up and started over to Melville’s plane. Melville left Desi in the shade of the hangar, and carrying her suitcase he came over.
“How come I didn’t see you around this morning?” he said.
Let no one ever say I threw myself at Melville’s head. 1 looked up, all preoccupied, as if Melville was only making polite conversation. I set down my bag for him to load. I admired the way everything was stowed, strapped down so nothing could shift. Only a
twenty-minute hop but that’s Melville for you. Melville t hinks of everything. Everything but me.
“You’ve got a walloping lot of stuff aboard,” I said.
“Har!” Melville said from inside the plane. “You think I’m overloaded? Listen, give me enough putti-putti and I’ll fly a cement mixer up there under its own power . . .”
He would too.
I SHARED the rear seat with Desi’s father and the fishing rods. Mr. Norton was a stout man and the rod cases stuck into my ribs. Mr. Norton had a scowl on his face and a cigar in his mouth that he rolled around as if he was going to swallow it.
We streamed along just over the treetops, angling by the face of a granite wall and laboring for altitude all the time. It’s a little creepy to feel how logy the tail of a ship is when you’ve got a real load aboard. But for Melville it might just as well have been a sight-seeing tour.
At nine thousand we slid over the pass and dropped down into the meadow where Melville has his camp. It made me jump to see the water backed up as deep as the grass in the meadow, in places drifting over the landing strip. I don’t say Melville didn’t, have his mind on the job, but we sure landed hot as a pack of firecrackers. The wheels went car-rump, car-rump, one tire dropped into a soft spot and the next second we were off the runway and it looked as if a waterfall had hit the windshield. A plane doesn’t go far through that kind of stuff. We stopped and I could feel the wheels settling into the ooze. Only the baggage in the tail kept us from standing on our nose.
AS THOUGH that was the way he l\. always set down, Melville opened the door, jumped into the ankle-deep water, and reached up, sort of shining all over with gallantry.
“I’ll have to carry you over to where it’s dry,” he said to Desi.
I began to tingle, waiting for my turn to be carried.
But Melville turned, with Desi in his arms, and nodded at me. “Julie, be a pet and bring along the groceries as you come?”
It was quashy underfoot. But I must say Mr. Norton was a prince. He grabbed up a couple of cartons and struggled along after me as though we were a couple of porters on an African safari.
At the main cabin I went into the kitchen to put away the groceries. Through the door I could hear Desi. She was making startled little cries of delight at the stuffed squirrels over the mantel w-hile Melville was building a fire.
“It’s just delirious up here,” she was saying. “And what’s more, the altitude has given me the most terrific appetite . . .”
1 had been going over the cartons of food that we’d brought in from the plane. Somewhere, I thought distractedly, a carton was missing.
“Did you hear, Julie?” Melville called out. “Put on a batch «f thick steaks—”
“Not steak,” Desi interrupted. “I’d like a lamb chop, well done, petit pois, potatoes julienne, just a speck . .
I checked the food once more before I went to the door. The steaks were in the missing carton.
“We have beans,” I said.
Desi’s father liked them. He ate two helpings and told me he hadn’t tasted any as good since he was a boy in a lumber camp.
“They used to bury the pot in the ashes,” he said. “When it came out,
steaming and running a little pork fat over the lip . .
Desi looked ill.
There was talk that went on long after dark about why couldn’t Melville dig out the plane tonight and fly her back to Lone Pine for a real dinner. Then over to the dance at Independence . . .
I went to bed and had the first good sleep in two nights.
NEXT morning as I was wondering what to make for breakfast Mr. Norton clumped up to the kitchen in his hip boots.
“Hey, Julie, look!” He opened his creel and showed me a trout as big as his forearm. “They’ve got whoppers up here.”
He palled up a stool and I drew him a cup of coffee. There was no longer a frown on Mr. Norton’s face.
“You don’t suppose . . .” he began apologetically.
I know that tone in a fisherman’s voice. I handed him a small knife. “You clean your fish,” I said. “I’ll cook it for breakfast.”
Desi didn’t look quite ravishing when she came down for breakfast. The altitude gets some people at first. I’m lucky that way. In the mountains my blood circulates like mad. All 1 do is dunk my face in some icy snow water to get a glow. But when Desi sat down and saw the fish rolled in corn meal, beautifully browned in bacon drippings, she turned a pale green and shoved back her chair.
“Desi got ptomaine a few months ago,” Mr. Norton explained between helpings. “Can’t stand the sight of fish since . . .”
After breakfast Melville slipped into the kitchen.
“Listen, darling,” he said earnestly. “Can’t you whip up something different for dinner today? I like beans, but “Don’t you call me darling,” 1 said. “And don’t blame me for the food. I wasn’t the one who left the carton in the hangar down there. I wasn’t the one who tried to land the plane and be dashing with the female passengers at the same time. Now you scram out of my kitchen ...”
Melville left to dig out his plane. Shortly Mr. Norton clumped happily off for the stream. And in a few minutes I saw Desi going by on her way to join Melville. It was going to be one of those wonderfully clear mountain days when the sun reflected off the snowbanks will burn you to a crisp if you’re not careful.
I called out to Desi.
“I wouldn’t wear that beret today . .
I admit I didn’t look too enchanting with an apron tied round my middle, but Desi looked me up and down as if I had on a secondhand flour sack.
“If I ever need any advice on what to wear,” Desi said sweetly, “you’ll he the first I’ll come to.”
BY THAT evening Melville had his plane dug out and almost back on the landing strip. Mr. Norton had caught some of the finest rainbows I’ve ever seen taken out of the stream. Desi had a wonderful flush on her face that I could predict with certainty was going to burn like fury in about two hours. And for supper we had beans. By now it was eat beans or starve. Desi ate beans.
After supper we had one of those jolly little conversations that just seems to spring out of nowhere when you’re gathered cosily in front of a good wood fire. Mr. Norton told mo three versions, each one more boring, about how he had come to catch that big rainbow. Desi lay on the bearskin rug with the firelight dancing behind
her and chattered incessantly to Melville about people I didn’t know. Melville smoked his pipe and nodded, looking at her like a rabbit hypnotized by a serpent. I just. sat.
After a while t he logs fell in a shower of sparks, Mr. Norton stretched and yawned, and I said 1 was going to bed.
1t was then, I guess, that 1 realized for the first time that, it was really all over with me and Melville. Just like that big rainbow of Mr. Norton’s, I thought. Only a few days ago it was swimming around free, paying no attention to anybody. Suddenly it sees a new and fascinating kind of bait. Bang! It’s hooked and landed. And so was Melville.
It was time for me to exit gracefully. I’d do it tomorrow, I decided as I rolled over and pulled up the blankets. Tomorrow was Saturday and good old Cork, that I could always depend on, would he coming up to visit me.
IT CERTAINLY startled me the way Desi slammed in to breakfast the next morning. Of course, when you’re pampering a day-old sunburn you’re not. going to crack your puss into a smile more often than you have to.
“Coffee,” she demanded crossly and then wanted to know when Melville was going to have his plane ready to leave.
“Any old time now,” Melville said breezily. “If I had a plank to put. under the tail wheel I could blast her right hack up on the runway.”
Mr. Norton said not to hurry on his account. He’d just as soon stay over another day for the fishing. Desi swelled up angrily and Mr. Norton subsided. I went, to my room to change my clothes and get. ready to meet Cork.
I have a one-piece flying suit, white gabardine with flap pockets, that fits snug in all the right places. I’ll not say it’s as glamourous as Dosi’s ski suit, hut you can take my word for it., for me it does something. I was just zippering it up when I heard voices outside on the porch.
I don’t listen at open windows, hut this I couldn’t help overhearing.
“If you don’t get me out of this forsaken hole,” Desi was saying, and I hadn’t heard as much intensity in her voice before, “I’ll lose* my mind. If I haven’t already got ulcers . . .” “Getting right at it,” Melville said cheerfully. “But the ship hack on the runway this afternoon, and tomorrow morning, bright and early
“Tomorrow?” Desi’s voice raised in hysterical disbelief. “I’ve got a date tonight. Now listen to me, you flying jug head. I’m beginning to believe the only reason you asked me up here was because you knew my father would come along. It’s darned funny how this whole trip seems to shape up so Father can get another day’s fishing . . .”
But Melville is the soul of patience. “Desi, you couldn’t believe a thing like* that
“You get that shovel hack in your hand and got that plane dug out. Now!”
The screen door slammed as Desi came back inside*. Melville walked by the window and sat flown in the shade of the fir tree outside. I felt se»rry for him. But then the course of true* le>ve, as well I know, is never smooth. I was Wondering whether I should slip out and tell him so.
But just then a plane dropped into the lower end of the meadow and braked to a stop on the runway. It was Cork. I gave a pat to my hair anel stepped out on the porch where I could lean gracefully against the railing.
Cork approached to within five yards before he really got focused on me. Then his steps slowed, he stopped, his
Adam’s apple bobbed once and he gave me the long once-over.
“Woof!” he said at last. Weakly but with more than grudging admiration.
Melville stood up and glared.
“What do you want?” he said truculently.
“I invited Cork up,” I said with emphasis. “Come on in, Cork, I’ve got the coffee pot on the stove.”
Cork followed me into the living room. Í suppose* 1 should have swept through like a queen, but the impulse to show Cork off was too much for me.
I waved a hand toward Desi. “Miss Allison, Mr. Jones. Mr. Jones, Mr. Norton.” And I hen I put my foot in it. Proper. “Mr. Jones,” I said proudly, “is Valley Airways most competent pilot.”
Desi jumped up and as she walked toward Cork she was practically drooling. “How fascinating to be able to fly, Mr. Jones,” she said, and added coyly, “or is it Captain Jones? My
father......” she paused to make certain
Cork would get it, “ my Father is president of Valley Airways. 1 hope you call us the next time you’re in the city . . .”
Some men just fall all over themselves to impress a girl. Cork sort of wavered between us for a moment, hut 1 could see a leer on his face that hadn’t been there a minute before. “I’ve got the southbound run tomorrow. Suppose 1 phone you toward evening . .
Desi wasn’t going to give him time to recover. “I’d sort of hoped,” she said, and let her voice fall, “well, you see we’re practically marooned here. It’s terribly important that Father get home today. Isn’t it, Father?”
Mr. Norton mumbled something about as long as the fishing lasted he was plenty satisfied where he was. But I could set* that Desi already had Cork hanging on the ropes.
“Co ahead, Cork,” 1 said. “I don’t feel like flying today anyway.”
Desi rushed to gather up her things.
THAT guy sure has his share of gall,” Melville said as they ran down the strip, wheeled and took off. “Comes up here and lands in my meadow as though he owns the place. Uses my strip as though it’s a publicairport. And tops it off by woofing my girl.”
“It was me lie woofed,” I said belligerently.
“That’s exactly what I mean. Never saw a jerk with such nerve.”
“Now listen, Melville,” I said. “Don’t, you try buttering me up by pretending you ever cared. I’m not blind.”
Melville’s face became hurt.. “Why, Julie! You didn’t think for a second 1 could he serious about anyone hut you?” He moved a step closer.
Fop has warned me any number of times about. Melville’s line. “You’re not fooling me one hit,” 1 said uneasily. “Melville, you stay away from me!”
But Melville wouldn’t.
“You’re so beautiful it hurts,” he said and he made it sound so sincere j that the tears just sprang into my eyes.
If there’s anything I detest, it’s a man | who’ll take advantage of a girl’s tears to | put Iris arm comfortingly around her j shoulders.
Melville drew me close and tilted up ray chin.
“If you knew how often I’ve dreamed of holding you,” he began softly, and it didn’t, sound at all the way Melville usually speaks to me.
“You leave me alone,” I said. “I hate you, Melville.”
“Sure,” he said soothingly. “I’m a beast. I’m not good enough for you . . .”
1 might have agreed with him, but by that time I couldn’t speak at all. because in spite of everything I could do, he was kissing me. An astonished look was coming into Melville’s eyes, f closed mine dreamily, because at last I knew that whatever part of Melville didn’t belong to the wide blue yonder belonged forever to me. ★