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The Coming Of The Colony

From: The Flying U's Last Stand

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

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.

"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

"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

"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

"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

"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

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."

Next: Florence Grace Hallman Speaks Plainly

Previous: The First Blow In The Fight

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