Ruthe Wheeler.

Janet Hardy in Radio City

Well see about it later, he said curtly, and continued with his explanation.

After breakfast Cora faced Janet.

Too bad you couldnt have said a good word for us with your director, she flared.

There wasnt a real good chance, replied Janet. I warned you last night not to bother him if he wasnt in a good mood.

But how was I to know? complained Cora.

Well, you do now, said Janet, and it was hard to keep from smiling. But she could realize how much it would mean to Cora and Margie and it would be mean of her not to help them just a little so later she spoke to Skeets Irwin, the assistant director, and Skeets promised to get Cora and Margie into the crowd scene.

Janet and Helen were in the same scene and they changed into their costumes, Janet into a dusty riding habit and Helen into a gingham dress and the apron that was her badge as a waitress in the villages one restaurant.

The girls rode down to the village, Cora and Margie following in their own car. Skeets had provided them with appropriate costumes and they were so excited they could hardly talk.

Billy Fenstow was back giving instructions to the riders who were to sweep down into the village while Skeets handled the scene at the village.

Dont stand around like a bunch of wooden Indians, said the assistant director. Show some interest when those horsemen come over the hills. I want plenty of action in this scene.

Keep close to us, Janet advised Cora and Margie. All you have to do is look excited.

Thats going to be easy, smiled Margie. Im so nervous now I cant stay still a minute.

Final instructions were given and the cameras started grinding as a massed body of riders swept over the crest of the hills and galloped madly toward the village.

The girls, who had been in the restaurant, rushed into the street and joined the other members of the company and the villagers who had been pressed into service as extras.

It was action and good action. Janet thrilled at the magnificent riding of Curt Newsom, who rode with consumate skill and grace. He was a part of the horse he was astride and it was no effort to Janet to register extreme excitement.

The mounted men, a band of captives in the center of the group, reined in before the astonished villagers and Curt, dismounting, pulled one of the captives from his saddle and strode toward the door which was marked sheriffs office. Curt pulled the protesting rider after him, disappearing into the sheriffs office. That finished the sequence and the cameras stopped clicking.

It was the last of the big scenes and the rest of the day was to be spent in picking up shots to fill out the story.

Do you suppose we looked all right? asked Cora, who had been fitted out in a housedress and sunbonnet. Margie was similarly attired.

Im sure you looked your parts, Janet assured them, but dont be too disappointed when you see the picture.

Therell only be a flash of this action on the screen and the mob scene wont last more than a few seconds.

Well see that one of the theaters at home books it, declared Margie firmly, and maybe Pete Benda will run a story about us.

I wouldnt be surprised if he did, agreed Janet.

They went back to the ranchhouse for lunch and Billy Fenstow beamed.

Were ahead of schedule now. Another two hours and well be ready to start for the studio where we can finish up the interiors in a couple more days.

The bus which had brought them from Hollywood rolled into the valley and several of the cowboys started loading baggage and equipment aboard it.

Janet and Helen went upstairs, followed by Cora and Margie. Both of the latter had been hinting that they would like an invitation to stay for a time in Hollywood, but they had been so mean and small during their high school days that neither Janet nor Helen could bear the thought of entertaining them.

Coming back to Clarion this fall? asked Cora, her dark eyes fairly snapping as she waited eagerly for the answer to her question.

I havent the slightest idea, replied Janet, quite truthfully.

How about you, Helen? It was Margie asking this time.

Helen shook her head. Your guess is as good as mine.

Cant you stay on in pictures? asked Cora, a tinge of sarcasm in her voice.

That nettled Janet. If we want to, she retorted, but neither one of us can see much of a future in being actresses in western films.

With all of the influence your father has, you ought to be able to get into better pictures, Margie told Helen, and it was her turn to feel a mounting flood of color in her cheeks.

You can leave Dad out of this. He gave us an introduction, but weve won our parts, snapped Helen.

The girls finished packing in silence and were ready to go down stairs when Skeets stuck his head in the door.

Bus is all ready to start back for the city, he said, picking up Janets and Helens bags.

Cora and Margie took their own luggage and followed them down stairs.

Do you think we ought to invite them to Hollywood with us? whispered Helen.

Thats up to you, replied Janet, for they would have to be entertained in your home.

Well, what do you honestly think?

Janet didnt answer at once, but as they reached the bus, she said, I think Ive had about all of the insinuations I can stand from either one of them.

Helen smiled. Thats a help, for I feel the same way. She turned toward the other girls, who were putting their baggage in their car.

We may see you in Clarion before college starts this fall, she said.

Thanks for all your help, flipped Cora, seating herself behind the wheel. Im sure well enjoy ourselves in Hollywood. We may run into you someplace.

She threw in the gears and the car lurched away along the dusty road that wound through the hills to the main highway some miles away.

Wasnt she nice and cordial? smiled Helen as she turned back to Janet.

Cora hasnt changed a bit and I dont suppose she will. What fun she could have if shed only be a little less selfish, said Janet.

Chapter Four

By the time everything was loaded into the bus, the sun was well down toward the western hills and the ranch was bathed in the soft, warm light of the late afternoon.

Curt Newsom, who had finished superintending the loading of his own horses into his private truck, walked over to join the girls, his spurs jingling as he walked.

Glad its all over? he asked.

Janet shook her head.

Hardly. Ive enjoyed it so much I really didnt want it to end, but I guess that all good things come to an end.

You did a splendid job as leading woman, smiled Curt. I wish all of them were like you. Every once in a while the girls they assign to this unit get it into their heads that they are real actresses and they go temperamental on us. But you two worked like real troupers and took all of the bumps as they came.

And they came, too, grinned Helen, rubbing her right leg, for she had slipped and fallen from a horse two days before and her leg was black and blue.

Curt was silent for a few moments, smiling at the efforts of Skeets to round up the last members of the company and get them aboard the big bus.

Are you going to stay with us? he asked.

We dont know, replied Helen. Falls almost here and that means college time. Were both awfully young to stay on in pictures.

Oh, I wouldnt say that. Ive known girls younger than either one of you to make a success.

But they didnt last long, countered Janet.

Perhaps youre right on that, agreed Curt. Are you going to school?

I expect well decide that when we get back to Hollywood and have a long talk with mother and dad, replied Helen.

Just then Billy Fenstow hurried up, puffing and exceedingly warm.

Everybody accounted for? he asked his harried assistant.

All here, replied the red-faced Skeets.

Sit down in the back seat with me, the director told the girls. I want to talk with you on the way back to the city.

The last members of the company were herded aboard the bus and the girls, Curt Newsom and the director were the last to get aboard.

They sat down on the broad back seat which had been reserved for the director. The bus lurched into motion and rolled away from the ranchhouse.

Billy Fenstow mopped his perspiring brow and leaned back to enjoy the ride.

The dusty road wound through the hills, golden clouds of dust marking the passing of the bus.

They were halfway to the main highway when the motor started to cough and the big vehicle slowed to a stop.

The driver buried himself under the hood and tinkered with the engine for a few minutes. Then he climbed back into his seat and started the motor again.

They progressed for several hundred yards and finally groaned to a stop.

Looks like we may be late in getting to dinner, said Curt. Sounded like serious trouble under the hood that time.

The lanky cowboy uncoiled his legs and went out to see if he could be of any assistance to the bus driver.

Billy Fenstow, taking advantage of the stop, spoke to Janet and Helen, his voice so low that it was doubtful if he could be overheard by any other member of the company.

What about staying in the company for my next picture? he asked.

When will it start? Janet countered.

The director mopped his brow again and grinned.

Just as soon as I can hash together a good enough story. Two weeks, maybe three, or it might even be a month. Why?

Were not certain what we want to do, explained Helen. You see, college starts next month.

My heavens, exclaimed the director. What under the sun do you want to go to college for? Youre smart enough right now.

Thats just it; we arent, replied Janet. And were terribly young, if the truth were known.

Billy Fenstow looked at them critically.

Yep, youre young enough, he conceded, but whats that got to do with it?

Well, were nothing sensational as actresses, replied Janet, and neither one of us would want to go along playing minor r?les for years. If we ever hope to do more than that weve got to have more of a background in education and college seems to be the easiest and surest way to attain that.

Billy Fenstow nodded in agreement.

Maybe youre right, he admitted, but you could stay on with me at one hundred or one hundred and fifty dollars a week for a long time.

But how many weeks a year would we work at that rate? There wouldnt be more than twenty-five or thirty at the most and our expenses of staying on in Hollywood would become heavier.

Now that you put it that way, youre probably right. But when you do get through college, dont forget to come back and well see how things go then.

The director started to get up, then sank back on the cushions.

You helped doctor the script of Kings of the Air, didnt you? he asked Janet.

I made a suggestion or two, she admitted.

I heard it was a little more than that, smiled the director. Why dont you see what you could do with a western script for me. I havent got an idea and if I turn it over to the studio writers, Ill probably get another stereotyped plot.

Are you serious? demanded Janet.

Very much so. You might be able to put together something with a new angle. Mind you, it must be simple in action, for Ive got to operate on a slim budget, but we must have a satisfactory love angle and a plausible plot. Think you can do anything with it?

Ill try; Ill do my best, promised Janet.

Then I guess Ill take a little vacation when we get back to Hollywood. Ill need the story in about ten days, or at least a complete outline by that time.

The tubby little director lifted himself off the seat and ambled down the aisle to learn how much longer they would be detained and Janet watched him go with a strange elation in her heart.

Chapter Five

Helen looked at her companion through smiling, quizzical eyes.

Well, what do you make of that? she asked.

Im a little bit dizzy, but I guess Mr. Fenstow meant what he said. Do you suppose I can really turn out an acceptable story for a western picture? Janet turned and shot the question squarely at Helen.

Im sure you can. That is, she amended, if you dont let the thought of it scare you.

Ill give it a lot of time and thought before I start writing the story.

There isnt much time, warned Helen, and Janet knew that her companion was right.

Ten days sometimes it seemed like an endless length of time; then again it vanished like magic and she had a feeling that this might be the case.

Some members of the company left the bus and walked around to stretch their legs; the others remained quietly in their seats, only a few of them talking for they were glad the strain of making the picture was at an end.

Janet sniffed the late afternoon air. There seemed to be a faint odor of smoke, but she decided some of the men in the company must be smoking nearby.

The heat abated somewhat as they waited for the driver to repair the engine and a sharp breeze swept down out of the hills sending little swirls of dust dancing along the winding road ahead of them.

Helen leaned close to her companion.

Smell smoke? she asked.

Not now, but I thought I did a few minutes ago, replied Janet.

Im sure I can now, went on Helen, sniffing intently.

Janet thought she caught another whiff of smoke, but she couldnt be sure.

Curt Newsom, who had been trying to help repair the engine, came back along the bus. His face was smudged with grime and dirt and his hands were covered with grease. He raised one of them and motioned for Janet and Helen to join him. The girls left their seats and walked down the bus, Curt meeting them at the doorway.

Come on, he said sharply and in a manner that was little like his own.

He strode away through the dry grass, which crackled like tinder under his boots. He was a good fifty yards away from the bus and far beyond earshot when he stopped and faced the girls.

It will be hours before that bus can be repaired, he told them. Someone will have to go back to the ranch or the nearest village and phone for another vehicle to come out from the city.

The freshening breeze stirred up a cloud of dust which enveloped them for a moment. Curt sneezed heavily and then sniffed.

Smell anything? There was desperate intentness in his question.

Janet and Helen wrinkled their noses and sniffed eagerly.

Helen shook her head.

Not now, but a while ago I thought I smelled smoke.

So did I, added Janet. It was kind of like tobacco smoke and then it wasnt.

Curt shook his head. Im afraid it isnt tobacco smoke. Ive been getting whiffs of it right along. Smells like a brush fire to me, but I cant locate any sign of smoke.

What do you mean by brush fire? asked Janet.

Curt looked at her sharply and then his eyes swept the rugged countryside where the sparse grass was brown and the brush as brittle as glass.

Its like a prairie fire only worse. Its even worse than a forest fire. It spreads more rapidly. Once a fire gets started in this dry, combustible stuff, its almost impossible to stop it. Either a good rain comes along or the blamed thing just burns itself out.

But I should think you could dodge a brush fire, put in Helen.

Maybe you could if you knew which way it was going to jump. But it moves almost like lightning and its on you before you know it.

The cowboy star cast an anxious eye over the rolling hills, but there was no sign of smoke, no spear of flame to flash a warning of impending trouble.

Keep your nose busy and your eyes and ears on the job. You might even stir around in the hills a bit. If you see anything that looks like it might spell trouble, let me know. Im going back to try and help the driver. Well give you plenty of time to get back before we start on if we just happen to find the trouble.

Curt, his spurs jingling musically, strode away, and Janet and Helen watched him go with mingled feelings. His words had aroused a very definite sense of alarm in their minds and they were a little white as they faced each other.

Im sure I smell smoke now, said Helen, sniffing intently. Janet did likewise, but she couldnt be sure, and the breeze was getting sharper.

Well scout around these hills. Lets try that one, Janet pointed to a ragged outcropping of rock that towered above the rest.

Its going to be hard to climb, cautioned Helen.

I know, but once were on top well be able to see all over this country. If theres any sign of a brush fire, well be able to see it from there.

I suppose youre right. Wish I had left my heavy boots on. These shoes arent made for this kind of walking, and Helen looked down at the low-heeled, comfortable oxfords she wore. They were all right for street wear, but when it came to climbing about over thin, rocky soil, they provided only a minimum of protection.

The outcropping Janet had selected was even steeper than they had anticipated and as they climbed, the outline of the bus in the valley became smaller. They stopped several times to rest and on the last occasion Janet sat down on a flat, sun-baked rock. There was a certain fetid odor about it but she thought nothing of it until Helen, who was about to sit down beside her, screamed.

Without thinking and so swiftly it must have been a reflex action, she hurled herself away from the rock.

She dropped in a twisting, rolling fall and as she turned she glimpsed a venomous head with lashing fangs which flashed out once from the rock and then disappeared.

Chapter Six

Janet fell heavily, turning over several times before she finally came to rest against a clump of dry brush.

Helen was at her side almost instantly, her face drawn and tense.

Did it strike you? she asked, deep anxiety marking her words.

Janet, still dazed by the shock of hurling herself to the ground, looked up and managed a wan smile. She shook her head and with Helen giving her a hand, got to her feet.

No, Im all right. Just scared a little. It was so sudden.

The snake was coiled up on the back of the rock. I saw it just as you sat down. For a second I was speechless; then I seemed to explode into a scream, explained Helen.

Its a good thing for me that you did, said Janet. I dont think the snake missed it more than inches. Wed better get some stout clubs if were going to do any more climbing around these rocks.

One thing, were not going to sit down on any of them, declared Helen, who was watching the pile of rocks with open suspicion. There was still that fetid smell in the air, but no sign of any snakes.

They looked about for sticks which could be used for clubs and Helen found several sizeable sticks which would serve that purpose.

The incident had unnerved them more than they cared to confess and they sat down to rest on the sandy soil, taking care that nothing was near them which would conceal a snake.

The afternoon deepened and the sun was about to sink over the western hills when they roused themselves and started on toward the summit of the promontory they had been climbing.

Janet stopped and sniffed the air. The odor of smoke seemed stronger now, yet there was no visible sign of it.

Helen also smelled it, for the wind, if anything, was sharper now.

If theres a fire burning somewhere near here, it might be bad for us, she said. This dry grass and underbrush would burn like tinder.

Thats what Curt fears, added Janet.

They stopped to rest once more before they started the final ascent to the rocky outcropping from which they hoped to be able to survey the entire surrounding country.

As they started up the final slope, the smell of the smoke became stronger. Looking back into the valley where the bus was stalled, Janet could see the men in the company all grouped around the front end. It was evident that the trouble had not been repaired. Some distance from the bus a lone figure was striding along the trail, evidently bound for the nearest ranch or village where he could telephone for another bus and a repair crew.

They toiled up the last few yards to the summit of the promontory and reached it only to drop down in an open space, gasping for breath, for the last part of the climb had been arduous.

A sharp cry from Helen drew Janets attention away from the bus, which now seemed far down in the valley.

Theres fire burning in that further valley, cried Helen, an involuntary note of alarm in her voice.

Janet turned quickly and gazed in the direction Helen was pointing. Her companion was right. There was fire in one of the distant valleys. From their elevation they could see a low, creeping wave of smoke shot through with an occasional tongue of flame.

The wind, riffling past them now, was sweeping the fire in their direction at a steady pace, but it was at least two miles away, perhaps even further, estimated Janet.

Does it look serious? asked Helen.

I should say it does, replied Janet quickly. One of us must get back to the bus at once and warn Curt. This is what hes feared.

Ill stay, said Helen, but Janet noted that her companions face paled at the thought of staying on top of the ridge and watching the fire sweep toward her.

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