The Coming Of The Colony





If you would see northern Montana at its most beautiful best, you should

see it in mid-May when the ground-swallows are nesting and the meadow

larks are puffing their throats and singing of their sweet ecstasy

with life; when curlews go sailing low over the green, grassy billows,

peering and perking with long bills thrust rapier-wise through the sunny

stillness, and calling shrilly, "Cor-r-ECK, cor-r-eck!"--which, I take

it, is simply their opinion of world and weather given tersely in plain

English. You should see the high prairies then, when all the world

is a-shimmer with green velvet brocaded brightly in blue and pink and

yellow flower-patterns; when the heat waves go quivering up to meet the

sun, so that the far horizons wave like painted drop-scenes stirred by a

breeze; when a hypnotic spell of peace and bright promises is woven over

the rangeland--you should see it then, if you would love it with a sweet

unreason that will last you through all the years to come.



The homeseekers' Syndicate, as represented by Florence Grace

Hallman--she of the wheat-yellow hair and the tempting red lips and the

narrow, calculating eyes and stubborn chin--did well to wait for the

spell of the prairies when the wind flowers and the lupines blue the

hillsides and the new grass paints green the hollows.



There is in us all a deep-rooted instinct to create, and never is that

instinct so nearly dominant as in the spring when the grass and the

flowers and the little, new leaves and the birds all sing the song of

Creation together. Then is when case-hardened city dwellers study the

bright array of seed-packets in the stores, and meditate rashly upon

the possibilities of back-yard gardening. Then is when the seasoned

country-dwellers walk over their farms in the sunset and plan largely

for harvest time. Then is when the salaried-folk read avidly the

real-estate advertisements, and pore optimistically over folders and

dream of chicken ranches and fruit ranches and the like. Surely, then,

the homeseekers' Syndicate planned well the date of their excursion into

the land of large promise (and problematical fulfillment) which lay east

of Dry Lake.



Rumors of the excursion seeped through the channels of gossip and set

the town talking and chuckling and speculating--after the manner of very

small towns.



Rumors grew to definite though erroneous statements of what was to take

place. Definite statements became certified facts that bore fruit in

detailed arrangements.



Came Florence Grace Hallman smilingly from Great Falls, to canvass the

town for "accommodations." Florence Grace Hallman was a capable woman

and a persuasive one, though perhaps a shade too much inclined to take

certain things for granted--such as Andy's anchored interest in her and

her project, and the probability of the tract remaining just as it had

been when last she went carefully over the plat in the land office.

Florence Grace Hallman had been busy arranging the details of the coming

of the colony, and she had neglected to visit the land office

lately. Since she cannily represented the excursion as being merely a

sight-seeing trip--or some such innocuous project--she failed also to

receive any inkling of recent settlements.



On a certain sunny morning in mid-May, the Happy Family stood upon the

depot platform and waited for the westbound passenger, that had attached

to it the special car of the homeseekers' Syndicate. The Happy Family

had been very busy during the past three weeks. They had taken all the

land they could, and had sighed because they could still look from their

claims upon pinnacles as yet unclaimed save by the government. They had

done well. From the south line of Meeker's land in the very foothills

of the Bear Paws, to the north line of the Flying U, the chain of

newly-filed claims remained unbroken. It had taken some careful work

upon the part of the Happy Family to do this and still choose land

not absolutely worthless except from a scenic viewpoint. But they had

managed it, with some bickering and a good deal of maneuvering. Also

they had hauled loads of lumber from Dry Lake, wherewith to build their

monotonously modest ten-by-twelve shacks with one door and one

window apiece and a round hole in the roof big enough for a length of

stove-pipe to thrust itself aggressively into the open and say by its

smoke signal whether the owner was at home. And now, having heard of the

mysterious excursion due that day, they had come to see just what would

take place.



"She's fifteen minutes late," the agent volunteered, thrusting his head

through the open window. "Looking for friends, boys?"



"Andy is," Pink informed him cheerfully. "The rest of us are just

hanging around through sympathy. It's his girl coming."



"Well, I guess he thinks he needs a housekeeper now," the agent grinned.

"Why don't you fellows get busy now and rustle some cooks?"



"Girls don't like to cook over a camp-fire," Cal Emmett told him

soberly. "We kinda thought we ought to build our shacks first."



"You can pick you out some when the train gets in," said the agent,

accepting a match from Weary. "There's a carload of--" He pulled in his

head hurriedly and laid supple fingers on the telegraph key to answer a

call, and the Happy Family moved down to the other end of the platform

where there was more shade.



The agent presently appeared pushing the truck of outgoing express,

a cheap trunk and a basket "telescope" belonging to one of the hotel

girls--who had quit her job and was sitting now inside waiting for

the train and seeing what she could of the Flying U boys through the

window--and the mail sack. He placed the truck where the baggage car

would come to a halt, stood for a minute looking down the track where a

smudge of smoke might at any moment be expected to show itself over the

low ridge of a hill, glanced at the lazy group in the patch of shade and

went back into the office.



"There's her smoke," Cal Emmett announced in the midst of an apathetic

silence.



Weary looked up from whittling a notch in the end of a platform plank

and closed his jack-knife languidly.



Andy pushed his hat backward and then tilted it forward over one eyebrow

and threw away his cigarette.



"Wonder if Florence Grace will be riding point on the bunch?" he

speculated aloud. "If she is, I'm liable to have my hands full. Florence

Grace will sure be sore when she finds out how I got into the game."



"Aw, I betche there ain't no such a person," said Happy Jack, doubter to

the last.



"I wish there wasn't," sighed Andy. "Florence Grace is kinda getting

on my nerves. If I done what I feel like doing, I'd crawl under the

platform and size up the layout through a crack. Honest to gracious,

Boys, I hate to meet that lady."



They grinned at him heartlessly and stared at the black smudge that was

rolling toward them. "She's sure hittin' her up," Pink vouchsafed with a

certain tenseness of tone. That train was not as ordinary trains; dimly

they felt that it was relentlessly bringing them trouble, perhaps;

certainly a problem--unless the homeseekers hovered only so long as

it took them to see that wisdom lay in looking elsewhere for a home.

Still--



"If this was August instead of May, I wouldn't worry none about them

pilgrims staying long," Jack Bates voiced the thought that was uppermost

in their minds.



"There comes two livery rigs to haul 'em to the hotel," Pink pointed out

as he glanced toward town. "And there's another one. Johnny told me every

room they've got is spoke for, and two in every bed."



"That wouldn't take no crowd," Happy Jack grumbled, remembering the

limitations of Dry Lake's hotel. "Here come Chip and the missus. Wonder

what they want?"



The Little Doctor left Chip to get their tickets and walked quickly

toward them.



"Hello, boys! Waiting for someone, or just going somewhere?"



"Waiting. Same to you, Mrs. Chip," Weary replied.



"To me? Well, we're going up to make our filings. Claude won't take a

homestead, because we'll have to stay on at the Flying U, of course, and

we couldn't hold one. But we'll both file desert claims. J. G. hasn't

been a bit well, and I didn't dare leave him before--and of course

Claude wouldn't go till I did. That the passenger coming, or a freight?"



"It's the train--with the dry-farmers," Andy informed her with a glance

at the nearing smoke-smudge.



"Is it? We aren't any too soon then, are we? I left Son at home--and he

threatened to run away and live with you boys. I almost wish I'd brought

him along. He's been perfectly awful. So have the men Claude hired to

take your places, if you want to know, boys. I believe that is what

made J. G. sick--having those strange men on the place. He's been like a

bear."



"Didn't Chip tell him--"



"He did, yes. He told him right away, that evening. But--J. G. has such

stubborn ideas. We couldn't make him believe that anyone would be crazy

enough to take up that land and try to make a living farming it. He--"

She looked sidewise at Andy and pursed her lips to Keep from smiling.



"He thinks I lied about it, I suppose," said that young man shrewdly.



"That's what he says. He pretends that you boys meant to quit, and just

thought that up for an excuse. He'll be all right--you mustn't pay any

attention--"



"Here she comes!"



A black nose thrust through a Deep cut that had a curve to it. At their

feet the rails began to hum. The Little Doctor turned hastily to see if

Chip were coming. The agent came out with a handful of papers and stood

waiting with the rest. Stragglers moved quickly, and the discharged

waitress appeared and made eyes covertly at Pink, whom she considered

the handsomest one of the lot.



The train slid up, slowed and stopped. Two coaches beyond the platform a

worried porter descended and placed the box-step for landing passengers,

and waited. From that particular coach began presently to emerge a

fluttering, exclaiming stream of humanity--at first mostly feminine.

They hovered there upon the cindery path and lifted their faces to watch

for others yet to come, and the babble of their voices could be, heard

above the engine sounds.



The Happy Family looked dumbly at one another and drew back closer to

the depot wall.



"Aw, I knowed there was some ketch to it!" blurted Happy Jack with

dismal satisfaction. "That there ain't no colony--It's nothin' but a

bunch of schoolma'ams!"



"That lady ridin' point is the lady herself," Andy murmured, edging

behind Weary and Pink as the flutter came closer. "That's Florence Grace

Hallman, boys."



"Well, by golly, git out and speak your little piece, then!" muttered

Slim, and gave Andy an unexpected push that sent him staggering out into

the open just as the leaders were coming up.



"Why, how de do, Mr. Green!" cried the blonde leader of the flock. "This

is an unexpected pleasure, I'm sure."



"Yes ma'am, it is," Andy assented mildly, with an eye cocked sidewise in

search of the guilty man.



The blonde leader paused, her flock coming to a fluttering, staring

stand behind her. The nostrils of the astonished Happy Family caught a

mingled odor of travel luncheons and perfume.



"Well, where have you been, Mr. Green? Why didn't you come and see me?"

demanded Florence, Grace Hallman in the tone of one who has a right

to ask leading questions. Her cool, brown, calculating eyes went

appraisingly over the Happy Family while she spoke.



"I've been right around here, all the time," Andy gave meek account of

himself. "I've been busy."



"Oh. Did you go over the tract, Mr. Green?" she lowered her voice.



"Yes-s--I went over it."



"And what do you think of it--privately?"



"Privately--it's pretty big." Andy sighed. The bigness of that tract had

worried the Happy Family a good deal.



"Well, the bigger the better. You see I've got 'em started." She

flicked a glance backward at her waiting colony. "You men are perfectly

exasperating! Why didn't you tell me where you were and what you were

doing?" She looked up at him with charming disapproval. "I feel like

shaking you! I could have made good use of you, Mr. Green."



"I was making pretty good use of myself," Andy explained, and wished he

knew who gave him that surreptitious kick on the ankle. Did the chump

want an introduction? Well! In that case--



"Miss Hallman, if you don't mind I'd like to introduce some men I

rounded up and brought here," he began before the Happy Family could

move out of the danger zone of his imagination. "Representative

citizens, you see. You can sic your bunch onto 'em and get a lot of

information. This is Mr. Weary Davidson, Miss Hallman: He's a hayseed

that lives out that way and he talks spuds better than anything else.

And here's Slim--I don't know his right name--he raises hogs to a

fare-you-well. And this is Percy Perkins"--meaning Pink--"and he's

another successful dryfarmer. Goats is his trade. He's got a lot of 'em.

And Mr. Jack Bates, he raises peanuts--or he's trying 'em this year--and

has contracts to supply the local market. Mr. Happy Jack is our local

undertaker. He wants to sell out if he can, because nobody ever dies

in this country and that makes business slow. He's thinking some of

starting a duck-ranch. This man"--indicating Big Medicine--"has got

the finest looking crop of volunteer wild oats in the country. He knows

all about 'em. Mr. Emmett, here, can put you wise to cabbage-heads;

that's his specialty. And Mr. Miguel Rapponi is up here from Old Mexico

looking for a favorable location for an extensive rubber plantation. The

natural advantages here are simply great for rubber.



"I've gone to some trouble gathering this bunch together for you, Miss

Hallman. I don't reckon you knew there was that many dry-farmers in the

country. They've all got ranches of their own, and the prettiest folders

you ever sent under a four-cent stamp can't come up to what these men

can tell you. Your bunch won't have to listen to one man, only--here's

half a dozen ready and waiting to talk."



Miss Hallman was impressed. A few of the closest homeseekers she

beckoned and introduced to the perspiring Happy Family--mostly feminine

homeseekers, of whom there were a dozen or so. The men whom the hotel

had sent down with rigs waited impatiently, and the unintroduced male

colonists stared at the low rim of Lonesome Prairie and wondered if over

there lay their future prosperity.



When the Happy Family finally made their escape, red-faced and muttering

threats, Andy Green had disappeared, and no one knew when he went or

where. He was not in Rusty Brown's place when the Happy Family went to

that haven and washed down their wrongs in beer. Pink made a hurried

trip to the livery stable and reported that Andy's horse was gone.



They were wondering among themselves whether he would have the nerve to

go home and await their coming--home at this stage of the game meaning

One Man coulee, which Andy had taken as a homestead and desert claim and

where the Happy Family camped together until such time as their claim

shacks were habitable. Some thought that he was hiding in town, and

advised a thorough search before they took to their horses. The Native



Son--he of mixed Irish and Spanish blood--told them with languid

certainty that Andy was headed straight for the camp because he would

figure that in camp was where they would least expect to find him.



The opinions of the Native Son were usually worth adopting. In this

case, however, it brought them into the street at the very moment when

Florence Grace Hallman and two homeseekers had ventured from the hotel

in search of them. Slim and Jack Bates and Cal Emmett saw them in time

and shied across the street and into the new barber shop where they sat

themselves down and demanded unnecessary hair-cuts and a shampoo apiece,

and spied upon their unfortunate fellows through the window while they

waited; but the others met the women fairly since it was too late to

turn back without making themselves ridiculous.



"I was wondering," began Miss Hallman in her brisk, business tone,

"if some of you gentlemen could not help us out in the matter of

conveyances. I have made arrangements for most of my guests, but we

simply can't squeeze another one into the rigs I have engaged--and I've

engaged every vehicle in town except a wheelbarrow I saw in the back

yard of the hotel."



"How many are left out?" asked Weary, since no one else showed any

symptoms of speech.



"Oh, not many, thank goodness. Just us three here. You've met Miss

Allen, Mr. Davidson--and Miss Price. And so have you other gentlemen,

because I introduced you at the depot. I went blandly ahead and told

everybody just which rig they were to ride in, and put three in a seat,

at that, and in counting noses I forgot to count our own--"



"I really don't see how she managed to overlook mine," sighed Miss

Allen, laying a dainty, gloved finger upon a nose that had the tiniest

possible tilt to it. "Nobody ever overlooked my nose before; it's almost

worth walking to the tract."



Irish, standing close beside Weary and looking enough like him to be

a twin instead of a mere cousin, smiled down at her with traitorous

admiration. Miss Allen's nose was a nice nose, and above it twinkled a

pair of warm brown eyes with humorous little wrinkles, around them; and

still above them fluffed a kinky-curly mass of brown hair. Weary looked

at her also, but he did not smile, because she looked a little like his

own schoolma'am, Miss Ruty Satterly--and the resemblance hurt a sore

place in his heart.



"--So if any of you gentlemen could possibly take us out to the tract,

we'd be eternally grateful, besides keeping our independence intact with

the usual payment. Could you help us out?"



"We all came in on horseback," Weary stated with a gentle firmness that

was intended to kill their hopes as painlessly as possible.



"Wouldn't there be room on behind?" asked Miss Allen with hope still

alive and flourishing.



"Lots of room," Weary assured her. "More room than you could possibly

use."



"But isn't there any kind of a rig that you could buy, beg, borrow or

steal?" Miss Hallman insisted. "These girls came from Wisconsin to take

up claims, and I've promised to see that they get the best there is

to be had. They are hustlers, if I know what the word means. I have a

couple of claims in mind, that I want them to see--and that's why

we three hung back till the rest were all arranged for. I had a rig

promised that I was depending on, and at the last minute discovered it

was not to be had. Some doctor from Havre came and got it for a trip

into the hills. There's no use talking; we just must get out to the

tract as soon as the others do--a little sooner wouldn't hurt. Couldn't

you think of some way?"



"We'll try," Irish promised rashly, his eyes tying to meet Miss Allen's

and succeeding admirably.



"What has become of Mr. Green?" Miss Hallman demanded after she had

thanked Irish with a smile for the qualified encouragement.



"We don't know," Weary answered mildly. "We were trying to locate him

ourselves."



"Oh, were you? He seems a rather uncertain young man. I rather counted

on his assistance; he promised--"



"Mr. Irish has thought of a rig he can use, Miss Hallman," said the

Allen girl suddenly. "He's going to drive us out himself. Let's hurry

and get ready, so we can start ahead of the others. How many minutes

will it take you, Mr. Irish, to have that team here, for us?"



Irish turned red. He HAD thought of a rig, and he had thought of driving

them himself, but he could not imagine how Miss Allen could possibly;

have known his thoughts. Then and there he knew who would occupy the

other half of the front seat, in case he did really drive the team he

had in mind.



"I told you she's a hustler," laughed Miss Hallman. "She'll be raising

bigger crops than you men--give her a year to get started. Well, girls,

come on, then."



They turned abruptly away, and Irish was left to his accounting with the

Happy Family. He had not denied the thoughts and intentions imputed to

him by the twinkling-eyed Miss Allen. They walked on toward the livery

stable--where was manifested an unwonted activity--waiting for Irish to

clear himself; which he did not do.



"You going to drive them women out there?" Pink demanded after an

impatient silence.



"Why not? Somebody'll have to."



"What team are you going to use!" asked Jack Bates.



"Chip's" Irish did not glance around, but kept striding down the middle

of the road with his hands stuck deep in his pockets.



"Don't you think you need help, amigo?" the Native Son insinuated

craftily. "You can't talk to three girls at once; I could be hired to go

along and take one off your hands. That should help some."



"Like hell you will!" Irish retorted with characteristic bluntness. Then

he added cautiously, "Which one?"



"That old girl with the blue eyes should not be permitted to annoy the

driver," drawled the Native Son. "Also, Florence Grace might want some

intelligent person to talk to."



"Well, I got my opinion of any man that'll throw in with that bunch,"

Pink declared hotly. "Why don't you fellows keep your own side the

fence. What if they are women farmers? They can do just as much

harm--and a darn sight more. You make me sick."



"Let 'em go," Weary advised calmly. "They'll be a lot sicker when the

ladies discover what they've helped do to that bench-land. Come on,

boys--let's pull out, away from all these lunatics. I hate to see them

get stung, but I don't see what we can do about it--only, if they come

around asking me what I think of that land, I'm going to tell 'em."



"And then they'll ask you why you took claims up there, and you'll

tell 'em that, too--will you?" The Native Son turned and smiled at him

ironically.



That was it. They could not tell the truth without harming their own

cause. They could not do anything except stand aside and see the thing

through to whatever end fate might decree. They thought that Irish and

the Native Son were foolish to take Chip's team and drive those women

fifteen miles or so that they might seize upon land much better left

alone; but that was the business of Irish and the Native Son, who did

not ask for the approval of the Happy Family before doing anything they

wanted to do.



The Happy Family saddled and rode back to the claims, gravely discussing

the potentialities of the future. Since they rode slowly while they

talked, they were presently overtaken by a swirl of dust, behind which

came the matched browns which were the Flying U's crack driving team,

bearing Irish and Miss Allen of the twinkling eyes upon the front seat

of a two seated spring-wagon that had seen far better days than this.

Native Son helped to crowd the back seat uncomfortably, and waved a hand

with reprehensible cheerfulness as they went rattling past.



The Happy Family stared after them with frowning disapproval, and Weary

turned in the saddle and looked ruefully at his fellows.



"Things won't ever be the same around here," he predicted soberly.

"There goes the beginning of the end of the Flying U, boys--and we ain't

big enough to stop it."





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