By the Rule of Contrary by Lucy Maud
"Look here, Burton," said old John Ellis in an ominous tone of voice,
"I want to know if what that old busybody of a Mary Keane came here
today gossiping about is true. If it is—well, I've something to say
about the matter! Have you been courting that niece of Susan Oliver's
all summer on the sly?"
Burton Ellis's handsome, boyish face flushed darkly crimson to the
roots of his curly black hair. Something in the father's tone roused
anger and rebellion in the son. He straightened himself up from the
turnip row he was hoeing, looked his father squarely in the face, and
"Not on the sly, sir, I never do things that way. But I have been
going to see Madge Oliver for some time, and we are engaged. We are
thinking of being married this fall, and we hope you will not object."
Burton's frankness nearly took away his father's breath. Old John
fairly choked with rage.
"You young fool," he spluttered, bringing down his hoe with such
energy that he sliced off half a dozen of his finest young turnip
plants, "have you gone clean crazy? No, sir, I'll never consent to
your marrying an Oliver, and you needn't have any idea that I will."
"Then I'll marry her without your consent," retorted Burton angrily,
losing the temper he had been trying to keep.
"Oh, will you indeed! Well, if you do, out you go, and not a cent of
my money or a rod of my land do you ever get."
"What have you got against Madge?" asked Burton, forcing himself to
speak calmly, for he knew his father too well to doubt for a minute
that he meant and would do just what he said.
"She's an Oliver," said old John crustily, "and that's enough." And
considering that he had settled the matter, John Ellis threw down his
hoe and left the field in a towering rage.
Burton hoed away savagely until his anger had spent itself on the
weeds. Give up Madge—dear, sweet little Madge? Not he! Yet if his
father remained of the same mind, their marriage was out of the
question at present. And Burton knew quite well that his father would
remain of the same mind. Old John Ellis had the reputation of being
the most contrary man in Greenwood.
When Burton had finished his row he left the turnip field and went
straight across lots to see Madge and tell her his dismal story. An
hour later Miss Susan Oliver went up the stairs of her little brown
house to Madge's room and found her niece lying on the bed, her pretty
curls tumbled, her soft cheeks flushed crimson, crying as if her heart
Miss Susan was a tall, grim, angular spinster who looked like the last
person in the world to whom a love affair might be confided. But never
were appearances more deceptive than in this case. Behind her
unprepossessing exterior Miss Susan had a warm, sympathetic heart
filled to the brim with kindly affection for her pretty niece. She had
seen Burton Ellis going moodily across the fields homeward and guessed
that something had gone wrong.
"Now, dearie, what is the matter?" she said, tenderly patting the
Madge sobbed out the whole story disconsolately. Burton's father would
not let him marry her because she was an Oliver. And, oh, what would
"Don't worry, Madge," said Miss Susan comfortingly. "I'll soon settle
old John Ellis."
"Why, what can you do?" asked Madge forlornly.
Miss Susan squared her shoulders and looked amused.
"You'll see. I know old John Ellis better than he knows himself. He is
the most contrary man the Lord ever made. I went to school with him. I
learned how to manage him then, and I haven't forgotten how. I'm going
straight up to interview him."
"Are you sure that will do any good?" said Madge doubtfully. "If you
go to him and take Burton's and my part, won't it only make him
"Madge, dear," said Miss Susan, busily twisting her scanty, iron-grey
hair up into a hard little knob at the back of her head before Madge's
glass, "you just wait. I'm not young, and I'm not pretty, and I'm not
in love, but I've more gumption than you and Burton have or ever will
have. You keep your eyes open and see if you can learn something.
You'll need it if you go up to live with old John Ellis."
Burton had returned to the turnip field, but old John Ellis was taking
his ease with a rampant political newspaper on the cool verandah of
his house. Looking up from a bitter editorial to chuckle over a
cutting sarcasm contained therein, he saw a tall, angular figure
coming up the lane with aggressiveness written large in every fold and
flutter of shawl and skirt.
"Old Susan Oliver, as sure as a gun," said old John with another
chuckle. "She looks mad clean through. I suppose she's coming here to
blow me up for refusing to let Burton take that girl of hers. She's
been angling and scheming for it for years, but she will find who she
has to deal with. Come on, Miss Susan."
John Ellis laid down his paper and stood up with a sarcastic smile.
Miss Susan reached the steps and skimmed undauntedly up them. She did
indeed look angry and disturbed. Without any preliminary greeting she
burst out into a tirade that simply took away her complacent foe's
"Look here, John Ellis, I want to know what this means. I've
discovered that that young upstart of a son of yours, who ought to be
in short trousers yet, has been courting my niece, Madge Oliver, all
summer. He has had the impudence to tell me that he wants to marry
her. I won't have it, I tell you, and you can tell your son so. Marry
my niece indeed! A pretty pass the world is coming to! I'll never
consent to it."
Perhaps if you had searched Greenwood and all the adjacent districts
thoroughly you might have found a man who was more astonished and
taken aback than old John Ellis was at that moment, but I doubt it.
The wind was completely taken out of his sails and every bit of the
Ellis contrariness was roused.
"What have you got to say against my son?" he fairly shouted in his
rage. "Isn't he good enough for your girl, Susan Oliver, I'd like to
"No, he isn't," retorted Miss Susan deliberately and unflinchingly.
"He's well enough in his place, but you'll please to remember, John
Ellis, that my niece is an Oliver, and the Olivers don't marry beneath
Old John was furious. "Beneath them indeed! Why, woman, it is
condescension in my son to so much as look at your niece—condescension,
that is what it is. You are as poor as church mice."
"We come of good family, though," retorted Miss Susan. "You Ellises
are nobodies. Your grandfather was a hired man! And yet you have the
presumption to think you're fit to marry into an old, respectable
family like the Olivers. But talking doesn't signify. I simply won't
allow this nonsense to go on. I came here today to tell you so plump
and plain. It's your duty to stop it; if you don't I will, that's
"Oh, will you?" John Ellis was at a white heat of rage and
stubbornness now. "We'll see, Miss Susan, we'll see. My son shall
marry whatever girl he pleases, and I'll back him up in it—do you
hear that? Come here and tell me my son isn't good enough for your
niece indeed! I'll show you he can get her anyway."
"You've heard what I've said," was the answer, "and you'd better go by
it, that's all. I shan't stay to bandy words with you, John Ellis. I'm
going home to talk to my niece and tell her her duty plain, and what I
want her to do, and she'll do it, I haven't a fear."
Miss Susan was halfway down the steps, but John Ellis ran to the
railing of the verandah to get the last word.
"I'll send Burton down this evening to talk to her and tell her what
he wants her to do, and we'll see whether she'll sooner listen to
you than to him," he shouted.
Miss Susan deigned no reply. Old John strode out to the turnip field.
Burton saw him coming and looked for another outburst of wrath, but
his father's first words almost took away his breath.
"See here, Burt, I take back all I said this afternoon. I want you to
marry Madge Oliver now, and the sooner, the better. That old cat of a
Susan had the face to come up and tell me you weren't good enough for
her niece. I told her a few plain truths. Don't you mind the old
crosspatch. I'll back you up."
By this time Burton had begun hoeing vigorously, to hide the amused
twinkle of comprehension in his eyes. He admired Miss Susan's tactics,
but he did not say so.
"All right, Father," he answered dutifully.
When Miss Susan reached home she told Madge to bathe her eyes and put
on her new pink muslin, because she guessed Burton would be down that
"Oh, Auntie, how did you manage it?" cried Madge.
"Madge," said Miss Susan solemnly, but with dancing eyes, "do you know
how to drive a pig? Just try to make it go in the opposite direction
and it will bolt the way you want it. Remember that, my dear."