Chapter 22. Lawful Improvements
 

Florence Grace Hallman must not be counted a woman without principle or kindness of heart or these qualities which make women beloved of men. She was a pretty nice young woman, unless one roused her antagonism. Had Andy Green, for instance, accepted in good faith her offer of a position with the Syndicate, he would have found her generous and humorous and loyal and kind. He would probably have fallen in love with her before the summer was over, and he would never have discovered in her nature that hardness and that ability for spiteful scheming which came to the surface and made the whole Happy Family look upon her as an enemy.

Florence Grace Hillman was intensely human, as well as intensely loyal to her firm. She had liked Andy Green better than anyone--herself included--realized. It was not altogether her vanity that was hurt when she discovered how he had worked against her--how little her personality had counted with him. She felt chagrined and humiliated and as though nothing save the complete subjugation of Andy Green and the complete thwarting of his plans could ease her own hurt.

Deep in her heart she hoped that he would eventually want her to forgive him his treachery. She would give him a good, hard fight--she would show him that she was mistress of the situation. She would force him to respect her as a foe; after that--Andy Green was human, certainly. She trusted to her feminine intuition to say just what should transpire after the fight; trusted to her feminine charm also to bring her whatever she might desire.

That was the personal side of the situation. There was also the professional side, which urged her to do battle for the interests of her firm. And since both the personal and the professional aspects of the case pointed to the same general goal, it may be assumed that Florence Grace was prepared to make a stiff fight.

Then Andy Green proceeded to fall in love with that sharp- tongued Rosemary Allen; and Rosemary Allen had no better taste than to let herself be lost and finally found by Andy, and had the nerve to show very plainly that she not only approved of his love but returned it. After that, Florence Grace was in a condition to stop at nothing--short of murder--that would defeat the Happy Family in their latest project.

While all the Bear Paw country was stirred up over the lost child, Florence Grace Hillman said it was too bad, and had they found him yet? and went right along planting contestants upon the claims of the Happy Family. She encouraged the building of claim-shacks and urged firmness in holding possession of them. She visited the man whom Irish had knocked down with a bottle of whisky, and she had a long talk with him and with the doctor who attended him. She saw to it that the contest notices were served promptly upon the Happy Family, and she hurried in shipments of stock. Oh, she was very busy indeed, during the week that was spent in hunting the Kid. When he was found, and the rumor of an engagement between Rosemary Allen and that treacherous Andy Green reached her, she was busier still; but since she had changed her methods and was careful to mask her real purpose behind an air of passive resentment, her industry became less apparent.

The Happy Family did not pay much attention to Florence Grace Hallman and her studied opposition. They were pretty busy attending to their own affairs; Andy Green was not only busy but very much in love, so that he almost forgot the existence of Florence Grace except on the rare occasions when he met her riding over the prairie trails.

First of all they rounded up the stock that had been scattered, and they did not stop when they crossed Antelope Coulee with the settlers' cattle. They bedded them there until after dark. Then they drove them on to the valley of Dry Lake, crossed that valley on the train traveled road and pushed the herd up on Lonesome Prairie and out as far upon the benchland as they had time to drive them.

They did not make much effort toward keeping it a secret. Indeed Weary told three or four of the most indignant settlers, next day, where they would find their cattle. But he added that the feed was pretty good back there, and advised them to leave the stock out there for the present.

"It isn't going to do you fellows any good to rear up on your hind legs and make a holler," he said calmly. "We haven't hurt your cattle. We don't want to have trouble with anybody. But we're pretty sure to have a fine, large row with our neighbors if they don't keep on their own side the fence."

That fence was growing to be more than a mere figure of speech The Happy Family did not love the digging of post- holes and the stretching of barbed wire; on the contrary they hated it so deeply that you could not get a civil word out of one of them while the work went on; yet they put in long hours at the fence-building.

They had to take the work in shifts on account of having their own cattle to watch day and night. Sometimes it happened that a man tamped posts or helped stretch wire all day, and then stood guard two or three hours on the herd at night; which was wearing on the temper. Sometimes, because they were tired, they quarreled over small things.

New shipments of cattle, too, kept coming to Dry Lake. Invariably these would be driven out towards Antelope Coulee--farther if the drivers could manage it--and would have to be driven back again with what patience the Happy Family could muster. No one helped them among the settlers. There was every attitude among the claim-dwellers, from open opposition to latent antagonism. None were quite neutral--and yet the Happy Family did not bother any save these who had filed contests to their claims, or who took active part in the cattle driving.

The Happy Family were not half as brutal as they might have been. In spite of their no-trespassing signs they permitted settlers to drive across their claims with wagons and water- barrels, to haul water from One Man Creek when the springs and the creek in Antelope Coulee went dry.

They did not attempt to move the shacks of the later contestants off their claims. Though they hated the sight of them and of the owners who bore themselves with such provocative assurance, they grudged the time the moving would take. Besides that the Honorable Blake had told them that moving the shacks would accomplish no real, permanent good. Within thirty days they must appear before the register and receiver and file answer to the contest, and he assured them that forbearance upon their part would serve to strengthen their case with the Commissioner.

It goes to prove how deeply in earnest they were, that they immediately began to practice assiduously the virtues of mildness and forbearance. They could, he told them, postpone the filing of their answers until close to the end of the thirty days; which would serve also to delay the date of actual trial of the contests, and give the Happy Family more time for their work.

Their plans had enlarged somewhat. They talked now of fencing the whole tract on all four sides, and of building a dam across the mouth of a certain coulee in the foothills which drained several miles of rough country, thereby converting the coulee into a reservoir that would furnish water for their desert claims. It would take work, of course; but the Happy Family; were beginning to see prosperity on the trail ahead and nothing in the shape of hard work could stop them from coming to hang-grips with fortune.

Chip helped them all he could, but he had the Flying U to look after, and that without the good team-work of the Happy Family which had kept things moving along so smoothly. The team-work now was being used in a different game; a losing game, one would say at first glance.

So far the summer had been favorable to dry-farming. The more enterprising of the settlers had some grain and planted potatoes upon freshly broken soil, and these were growing apace. They did not know about these scorching August winds, that might shrivel crops in a day. They did not realize that early frosts might kill what the hot winds spared. They became enthusiastic over dry-farming, and their resentment toward the Happy family increased as their enthusiasm waxed strong. The Happy Family complained to one another that you couldn't pry a nester loose from his claim with a crowbar.

In this manner did civilization march out and take possession of the high prairies that lay close to the Flying U. They had a Sunday School organized, with the meetings held in a double shack near the trail to Dry Lake. The Happy family, riding that way, sometimes heard voices mingled in the shrill singing of some hymn where, a year before, they had listened to the hunting song of the coyote.

Eighty acres to the man--with that climate and that soil they never could make it pay; with that soil especially since it was mostly barren. The Happy Family knew it, and could find it in their hearts to pity the men who were putting in dollars and time and hard work there. But for obvious reasons they did not put their pity into speech.

They fenced their west line in record time. There was only one gate in the whole length of it, and that was on the trail to Dry Lake. Not content with trusting to the warning of four strands of barbed wire stretched so tight that they hummed to the touch, they took turns in watching it--"riding fence," in range parlance--and in watching the settlers' cattle.

To H. J. Owens and his fellow contestants they paid not the slightest attention, because the Honorable Blake had urged them personally to ignore any and all claimants. To Florence Grace Hallman they gave no heed, believing that she had done her worst, and that her worst was after all pretty weak, since the contests she had caused to be filed could not possibly be approved by the government so long as the Happy Family continued to abide by every law and by-law and condition and requirement in their present through-going and exemplary manner.

You should have seen how mild-mannered and how industrious the Happy Family were, during these three weeks which followed the excitement of the Kid's adventuring into the wild. You would have been astonished, and you would have made the mistake of thinking that they had changed permanently and might be expected now to settle down with wives and raise families and hay and cattle and potatoes, and grow beards, perhaps, and become well-to-do ranchers.

The Happy Family were almost convinced that they were actually leaving excitement behind them for good and all. They might hold back the encroaching tide of immigration from the rough land along the river--that sounded like something exciting, to be sure. But they must hold back the tide with legal proceedings and by pastoral pursuits, and that promised little in the way of brisk, decisive action and strong nerves and all these qualities which set the Happy Family somewhat apart from their fellows.