Read CHAPTER XIX - CARVER STANDISH III FITS IN of Virginia of Elk Creek Valley , free online book, by Mary Ellen Chase, on ReadCentral.com.

Carver Standish III hated the world, himself, and everybody else at least, he thought he did. In fact, he had been so sure of it all day that no one had attempted any argument on the subject. Jack, unable to maneuver a fishing-trip and secretly glad of an escape, had ridden over to Mary with some much-needed mending; Donald had been glad to ride on the range on an errand for his father; Mr. Keith was in town; the whereabouts of Malcolm could easily be guessed.

Carver, in white trousers and a crimson Gordon sweater, was idly roaming about the ranch in search of any diversion which might present itself, and which did not require any too much exertion. For two weeks and more things had not been going well with him. His stay in Wyoming was not closing so happily as it had begun all due, he admitted to himself, to a missed opportunity. For had he seized the chance when it was given him on the morning after that disastrous night on the mountain, and taken the laugh he had so richly deserved, by now the incident, like Vivian’s affair with Mr. Crusoe, would be forgotten. Instead, he had accepted ill-gotten commendation, and received with it the well-disguised scorn of Virginia. This last was the worst of all.

He wandered down to the corral. If there were a horse around he might change his clothes and ride. Dave was there, repairing some harnesses. There were no horses down, he said, except old Ned. They were all on the range. Carver might ride Ned, or take him to round up the others. For a moment Carver thought of asking Dave to do the service for him, but the determined set of the old Scotchman’s jaw warned him in time. Dave was averse to taking orders from a tenderfoot. It was too much like work, Carver concluded, to round up a decent horse, and to ride Ned would not alleviate his present mood. He would walk.

Old Dave, intent on his harnesses, did not see Carver jump the farther boundary of the corral. Had he done so, he would have shouted a warning not to stray too far on foot across the range. The cattle were being driven farther down toward the ranch, and they were often averse to solitary persons on foot.

Carver, all unperceived, climbed the foot-hills, his hands deep in his pockets, his eyes on the ground. It was all a bad mess, he thought, and how to get out of it, he didn’t know. Of one thing he was certain: the West was not the place for him. The dreams in which he had lived only three weeks ago dreams of opening a branch of his father’s business in the West when he should have finished college had vanished. He had now decided he was born to remain a New Englander. There were things about the West which he didn’t like blunt, unpolished, new things. Of course these ranchers didn’t mind crudities. They could fraternize with ordinary cow-punchers. Even Donald could do that. But he had been reared differently. He struck his toe against a rock, which he kicked savagely out of his way. No, the Standishes were New Englanders, and there they would remain!

He reached the brow of the first foot-hills, crossed an open space, and climbed others to the open range above. When he again reached a level he stopped in surprise. Never had he seen so many cattle. There were literally hundreds of them. Where had they all come from? He stood still and stared at them, and they with one accord stopped browsing and stared at him. They were unaccustomed to persons strolling on foot across their preserves. For an instant Carver Standish felt a strange sense of fear. There was something portentous in the way a big red and white bull in the foreground was staring at him. Then he saw Donald on horseback off to the right, and waved his hand. But Donald, spying the white trousers and the red sweater in the same instant, did not stop to wave. Instead, he struck MacDuff with his spur, skirted the cattle nearest him, and rode madly down toward Carver and those ahead.

“He’s crazy,” he said to himself, “coming up here in that rig and afoot. Old Rex will never stand it for a moment.”

He was right. Old Rex had not the slightest inention of standing it. He ate no more, but with lowered head gazed at this curiously clad intruder, who was hesitating, not knowing whether to advance or to turn back. Old Rex decided for him. He did the advancing. One shake of his heavy head, crowned with long, sharp horns, one cloud of dust as he pawed the ground, and one tremendous bellow warned Carver Standish III to do no tarrying in that locality.

A shout from Donald following Old Rex’s roar determined Carver’s direction. He fled toward MacDuff at a speed which would have won any twenty-five yard cup in New England! Old Rex followed. The other cattle, curiously enough and much to Donald’s relief, let their champion fight it out alone.

Donald, every moment drawing nearer, freed his left foot from the stirrup. Carver must somehow be made to jump behind the saddle, and jump quick! There was not an instant to lose. Old Rex was gaining, and Carver was growing tired. It was too hot up there for a red sweater. With the bull a scant thirty feet away Donald pulled in MacDuff, and yelled to Carver to jump, which he did, aided by the stirrup, Donald’s arm, and the last bit of ancestral nerve he possessed. When Old Rex, baffled and defeated, saw his foe being championed by one whom he full well knew, it took but a yell from Donald and a mighty crack of his quirt to send him back among the herd.

There seemed little enough to say as MacDuff bore his double load down over the hills to the lower range, where white trousers and red sweaters might be countenanced. But something had returned to Carver, something which for two weeks had been on a vacation. As they neared the home foot-hills, he slid from MacDuff.

“If you’re not in a hurry, Don,” he said, “let’s rest here a minute. MacDuff is tired, I know, and there are some things I want to get straightened out before we go down home.”

The next afternoon while Jack searched the ranch for his scattered possessions and tried in vain to stow them all away in his trunk, while three crestfallen girls packed at the Hunter ranch, Carver, fresh from an interview with Mr. Keith, sat down to write his father. The letter, received four days later in place of its author by the Standish family, brought surprise and consternation in its wake.

“I simply can’t understand it,” said Mrs. Carver Standish II, on the verge of hysterical tears. “I’ve never known him to do such a thing before. There’s Ruth Sherman’s house-party coming off, and the St. Clair wedding, and the tennis tournament, and our trip to the Adirondacks and everything! Whatever shall I tell people who inquire? There’s something wrong with him, Carver! I never did want him to go to that place, anyway. You’d better wire!”

“I can’t see but that it’s plain enough,” said his father. “He simply prefers threshing on a Wyoming ranch to a house-party or a wedding or a tennis tournament or the Adirondacks. Let him alone. Maybe a little work won’t hurt him.”

“Hurt him!” cried a certain gray-haired old gentleman, slapping his knees. “Hurt him! It’ll be the best thing that ever happened to him, in my opinion! Work, and being with that little girl out there!”

“And I did so want Mrs. Van Arsdale to see him!” continued his mother. “I’d planned all sorts of things for September. Read the letter again, Carver.”

Mr. Carver Standish II read the letter. It was brief and to the point.

“’DEAR DAD:

“’I’m not coming home till school opens. I’m going to stay out here and help thresh. Mr. Keith is short on hands, and he says I’ll do. I wanted to help for nothing, they’ve all been so good to me but he says I mustn’t. You needn’t send me any money, because I’m going to be earning two dollars a day, and maybe three if I’m any good. Please don’t let Mother object. It won’t do any good anyhow, because I’ve already signed a contract to stay. Mr. Keith didn’t want to draw it up, but I insisted. He does it with the other men, and I’m no better than the rest.

“’I’ve got a great scheme about bringing the business West when I’m through college. It sure is some country out here! Love to Grandfather.

“‘CARVER.’”

That Carver Standish III preferred threshing on a Wyoming ranch to a house-party was the subject of conversation at every social affair for a week and more. Poor Mrs. Carver Standish II found explanations most difficult.

“Carver’s so in love with the country and riding and all that he just won’t come back,” she said.

But Carver’s grandfather, the old Colonel, found no such difficulty.

“My grandson,” he said, his fine head thrown back, and his blue eyes glowing with pride, “my grandson is discovering the dignity of labor on a Wyoming ranch!”