In Spite of Myself by Lucy Maud Montgomery
My trunk was packed and I had arranged with my
senior partner—I was the junior member of a law
firm—for a month's vacation. Aunt Lucy had written
that her husband had gone on a sea trip and she
wished me to superintend the business of his farm and mills
in his absence, if I could arrange to do so. She added that
"Gussie" thought it was a pity to trouble me, and wanted to
do the overseeing herself, but that she—Aunt Lucy—preferred
to have a man at the head of affairs.
I had never seen my step-cousin, Augusta Ashley, but I
knew, from Aunt Lucy's remarks concerning her, pretty
much what sort of person she was—just the precise kind I disliked
immeasurably. I had no idea what her age was, but
doubtless she was over thirty, tall, determined, aggressive,
with a "faculty" for managing, a sharp, probing nose, and a
y-formation between her eyebrows. I knew the type, and I
was assured that the period of sojourn with my respected
aunt would be one of strife between Miss Ashley and myself.
I wrote to Aunt Lucy to expect me, made all necessary
arrangements, and went to bid Nellie goodbye. I had made up
my mind to marry Nellie. I had never openly avowed myself
her suitor, but we were cousins, and had grown up together,
so that I knew her well enough to be sure of my ground. I liked
her so well that it was easy to persuade myself that I was in
love with her. She more nearly fulfilled the requirements of
my ideal wife than anyone I knew. She was pleasant to look
upon, without being distractingly pretty; small and fair and
womanly. She dressed nicely, sang and played agreeably,
danced well, and had a cheerful, affectionate disposition. She
was not alarmingly clever, had no "hobbies," and looked up
to me as heir to all the wisdom of the ages—what man does
not like to be thought clever and brilliant? I had no formidable
rival, and our families were anxious for the match. I considered
myself a lucky fellow. I felt that I would be very lonely
without Nellie when I was away, and she admitted frankly
that she would miss me awfully. She looked so sweet that I
was on the point of asking her then and there to marry me.
Well, fate interfered in the guise of a small brother, so I said
goodbye and left, mentally comparing her to my idea of Miss
Augusta Ashley, much to the latter's disadvantage.
When I stepped from the train at a sleepy country station
next day I was promptly waylaid by a black-eyed urchin who
informed me that Mrs. Ashley had sent him with an express
wagon for my luggage, and that "Miss Gussie" was waiting
with the carriage at the store, pointing down to a small building
before whose door a girl was trying to soothe her frightened
As I went down the slope towards her I noticed she was tall—quite
too tall for my taste. I dislike women who can look
into my eyes on a level—but I had to admit that her form was
remarkably symmetrical and graceful. She put out her hand—it
was ungloved and large, but white and firm, with a cool,
pleasant touch—and said, with a composure akin to indifference,
"Mr. Carslake, I presume. Mother could not come to
meet you, so she sent me. Will you be kind enough to hold my
horse for a few minutes? I want to get something in the
store." Whereupon she calmly transferred the reins to me and
At the time she certainly did not impress me as pretty, yet
neither could I call her plain. Taken separately, her features
were good. Her nose was large and straight, the mouth also a
trifle large but firm and red, the brow wide and white, shadowed
by a straying dash of brown curl or two. She had a certain
cool, statuesque paleness, accentuated by straight, fine,
black brows, and her eyes were a bluish grey; but the pupils,
as I afterward found out, had a trick of dilating into wells of
blackness which, added to a long fringe of very dark lashes,
made her eyes quite the most striking feature of her face. Her
expression was open and frank, and her voice clear and musical
without being sweet. She looked about twenty-two.
At the time I did not fancy her appearance and made a
mental note to the effect that I would never like Miss Ashley.
I had no use for cool, businesslike women—women should
have no concern with business. Nellie would never have
troubled her dear, curly head over it.
Miss Ashley came out with her arms full of packages,
stowed them away in the carriage, got in, told me which road
to take, and did not again speak till we were out of the village
and driving along a pretty country lane, arched over with
crimson maples and golden-brown beeches. The purplish
haze of a sunny autumn day mellowed over the fields, and the
bunch of golden rod at my companion's belt was akin to the
plumed ranks along the fences. I hazarded the remark that it
was a fine day; Miss Ashley gravely admitted that it was.
Then a deep smile seemed to rise somewhere in her eyes and
creep over her face, discovering a dimple here and there as it
"Don't let's talk about the weather—the subject is rather
stale," she said. "I suppose you are wondering why on earth
Mother had to drag you away out here. I tried to show her how
foolish it was, but I didn't succeed. Mother thinks there must
be a man at the head of affairs or they'll never go right. I could
have taken full charge easily enough; I haven't been Father's
'boy' all my life for nothing. There was no need to take you
away from your business."
I protested. I said I was going to take a vacation anyway,
and business was not pressing just then. I also hinted that,
while I had no doubt of her capacity, she might have found the
duties of superintendent rather arduous.
"Not at all," she said, with a serenity that made me groan
inwardly. "I like it. Father always said I was a born business
manager. You'll find Ashley's Mills very quiet, I'm afraid. It's
a sort of charmed Sleepy Hollow. See, there's home," as we
turned a maple-blazoned corner and looked from the crest of
one hill across to that of another. "Home" was a big, white,
green-shuttered house buried amid a riot of autumn colour,
with a big grove of dark green spruces at the back. Below them
was a glimpse of a dark blue mill pond and beyond it long
sweeps of golden-brown meadow land, sloping up till they
dimmed in horizon mists of pearl and purple.
"How pretty," I exclaimed admiringly.
"Isn't it?" said Gussie proudly. "I love it." Her pupils
dilated into dark pools, and I rather unwillingly admitted that
Miss Ashley was a fine-looking girl.
As we drove up Aunt Lucy was standing on the steps of the
verandah, over whose white roof trailed a luxuriant creeper,
its leaves tinged by October frosts into lovely wine reds and
tawny yellows. Gussie sprang out, barely touching my
offered hand with her fingertips.
"There's Mother waiting to pounce on you and hear all the
family news," she said, "so go and greet her like a dutiful
"I must take out your horse for you first," I said politely.
"Not at all," said Miss Ashley, taking the reins from my
hands in a way not to be disputed. "I always unharness Charley
myself. No one understands him half so well. Besides, I'm
used to it. Didn't I tell you I'd always been Father's boy?"
"I well believe it," I thought in disgust, as she led the horse
over to the well and I went up to Aunt Lucy. Through the sitting-room
windows I kept a watchful eye on Miss Ashley as
she watered and deftly unharnessed Charley and led him into
his stable with sundry pats on his nose. Then I saw no more of
her till she came in to tell us tea was ready, and led the way
out to the dining room.
It was evident Miss Gussie held the reins of household
government, and no doubt worthily. Those firm, capable
white hands of hers looked as though they might be equal to a
good many emergencies. She talked little, leaving the conversation
to Aunt Lucy and myself, though she occasionally
dropped in an apt word. Toward the end of the meal, however,
she caught hold of an unfortunate opinion I had incautiously
advanced and tore it into tatters. The result was a spirited
argument, in which Miss Gussie held her own with such ability
that I was utterly routed and found another grievance
against her. It was very humiliating to be worsted by a girl—a
country girl at that, who had passed most of her life on a farm!
No doubt she was strong-minded and wanted to vote. I was
quite prepared to believe anything of her.
After tea Miss Ashley proposed a walk around the premises,
in order to initiate me into my duties. Apart from his
farm, Mr. Ashley owned large grist-and saw-mills and did a
flourishing business, with the details of which Miss Gussie
seemed so conversant that I lost all doubt of her ability to run
the whole thing as she had claimed. I felt quite ignorant in the
light of her superior knowledge, and our walk was enlivened
by some rather too lively discussions between us. We walked
about together, however, till the shadows of the firs by the
mills stretched nearly across the pond and the white moon
began to put on a silvery burnish. Then we wound up by a bitter
dispute, during which Gussie's eyes were very black and
each cheek had a round, red stain on it. She had a little air of
triumph at having defeated me.
"I have to go now and see about putting away the milk, and
I dare say you're not sorry to be rid of me," she said, with a
demureness I had not credited her with, "but if you come to
the verandah in half an hour I'll bring you out a glass of new
milk and some pound cake I made today by a recipe that's
been in the family for one hundred years, and I hope it will
choke you for all the snubs you've been giving me." She
walked away after this amiable wish, and I stood by the pond
till the salmon tints faded from its waters and stars began to
mirror themselves brokenly in its ripples. The mellow air
was full of sweet, mingled eventide sounds as I walked back
to the house. Aunt Lucy was knitting on the verandah. Gussie
brought out cake and milk and chatted to us while we ate,
in an inconsequent girlish way, or fed bits of cake to a green-eyed
goblin in the likeness of a black cat.
She appeared in such an amiable light that I was half
inclined to reconsider my opinion of her. When I went to my
room the vase full of crimson leaves on my table suggested
Gussie, and I repented of my unfriendliness for a moment—and
only for a moment. Gussie and her mother passed
through the hall below, and Aunt Lucy's soft voice floated up
through my half-open door.
"Well, how do you like your cousin, my dear?"
Whereat that decided young lady promptly answered, "I
think he is the most conceited youth I've met for some time."
Pleasant, wasn't it? I thought of Nellie's meek admiration
of all my words and ways, and got her photo out to soothe my
vanity. For the first time it struck me that her features were
somewhat insipid. The thought seemed like disloyalty, so I
banished it and went to bed.
I expected to dream of that disagreeable Gussie, but I did
not, and I slept so soundly that it was ten o'clock the next
morning before I woke. I sprang out of bed in dismay, dressed
hastily, and ran down, not a little provoked at myself.
Through the window I saw Gussie in the garden digging up
some geraniums. She was enveloped in a clay-stained brown
apron, a big flapping straw hat half hid her face, and she wore a
pair of muddy old kid gloves. Her whole appearance was disreputable,
and the face she turned to me as I said "Good
morning" had a diagonal streak of clay across it. I added slovenliness
to my already long list of her demerits.
"Good afternoon, rather. Don't you know what time it is?
The men were here three hours ago for their orders. I thought
it a pity to disturb your peaceful dreams, so I gave them
myself and sent them off."
I was angrier than ever. A nice beginning I had made. And
was that girl laughing at me?
"I expected to be called in time, certainly," I said stiffly. "I
am not accustomed to oversleep myself. I promise it will not
My dignity was quite lost on Gussie. She peeled off her
gloves cheerfully and said, "I suppose you'd like some breakfast.
Just wait till I wash my hands and I'll get you some. Then
if you're pining to be useful you can help me take up these
There was no help for it. After I had breakfasted I went,
with many misgivings. We got on fairly well, however. Gussie
was particularly lively and kept me too busy for argument.
I quite enjoyed the time and we did not quarrel until nearly
the last, when we fell out bitterly over some horticultural
problem and went in to dinner in sulky silence. Gussie disappeared
after dinner and I saw no more of her. I was glad of this,
but after a time I began to find it a little dull. Even a dispute
would have been livelier. I visited the mills, looked over the
farm, and then carelessly asked Aunt Lucy where Miss Ashley
was. Aunt Lucy replied that she had gone to visit a friend
and would not be back till the next day.
This was satisfactory, of course, highly so. What a relief it
was to be rid of that girl with her self-assertiveness and independence.
I said to myself that I hoped her friend would keep
her for a week. I forgot to be disappointed that she had not
when, next afternoon, I saw Gussie coming in at the gate with
a tolerably large satchel and an armful of golden rod. I sauntered
down to relieve her, and we had a sharp argument under
way before we were halfway up the lane. As usual Gussie
refused to give in that she was wrong.
Her walk had brought a faint, clear tint to her cheeks and
her rippling dusky hair had half slipped down on her neck.
She said she had to make some cookies for tea and if I had
nothing better to do I might go and talk to her while she
mixed them. It was not a gracious invitation but I went,
rather than be left to my own company.
By the end of the week I was as much at home at Ashley
Mills as if I had lived there all my life. Gussie and I were
thrown together a good deal, for lack of other companions,
and I saw no reason to change my opinion of her. She could be
lively and entertaining when she chose, and at times she
might be called beautiful. Still, I did not approve of her—at
least I thought so, most of the time. Once in a while came a
state of feeling which I did not quite understand.
One evening I went to prayer meeting with Aunt Lucy and
Gussie. I had not seen the minister of Ashley Mills before,
though Gussie and her mother seemed to know him intimately.
I had an idea that he was old and silvery-haired and
benevolent-looking. So I was rather surprised to find him as
young as myself—a tall, pale, intellectual-looking man, with
a high, white brow and dark, earnest eyes—decidedly
I was still more surprised when, after the service, he joined
Gussie at the door and went down the steps with her. I felt
distinctly ill-treated as I fell back with Aunt Lucy. There was
no reason why I should—none; it ought to have been a relief.
Rev. Carroll Martin had every right to see Miss Ashley home
if he chose. Doubtless a girl who knew all there was to be
known about business, farming, and milling, to say nothing
of housekeeping and gardening, could discuss theology also.
It was none of my business.
I don't know what kept me awake so late that night. As a
consequence I overslept myself. I had managed to redeem my
reputation on this point, but here it was lost again. I felt cross
and foolish and cantankerous when I went out.
There was some unusual commotion at the well. It was an
old-fashioned open one, with a chain and windlass. Aunt
Lucy was peering anxiously down its mouth, from which a
ladder was sticking. Just as I got there Gussie emerged from
its depths with a triumphant face. Her skirt was muddy and
draggled, her hair had tumbled down, and she held a dripping
"Coco must have fallen into the well last night," she
explained, as I helped her to the ground. "I missed him at
milking-time, and when I came to the well this morning I
heard the most ear-splitting yowls coming up from it. I
couldn't think where he could possibly be, for the water was
quite calm, until I saw he had crept into a little crevice in the
stones on the side. So I got a ladder and went down after him."
"You should have called me," I said sourly. "You might
have killed yourself, going down there."
"And Coco might have tumbled in and drowned while you
were getting up," retorted Gussie. "Besides, what was the
need? I could go down as well as you."
"No doubt," I said, more sharply than I had any business
to. "I don't dream of disputing your ability to do anything you
may take it into your head to do. Most young ladies are not in
the habit of going down wells, however."
"Perhaps not," she rejoined, with freezing calmness. "But,
as you may have discovered, I am not 'most young ladies.' I
am myself, Augusta Ashley, and accountable to nobody but
myself if I choose to go down the well every day for pure love
She walked off in her wet dress with her muddy cat. Gussie
Ashley was the only girl I ever saw who could be dignified
under such circumstances.
I was in a very bad humour with myself as I went off to see
about having the well cleaned out. I had offended Gussie and I
knew she would not be easily appeased. Nor was she. For a
week she kept me politely, studiously, at a distance, in spite
of my most humble advances. Rev. Carroll was a frequent
caller, ostensibly to make arrangements about a Sunday
school they were organizing in a poor part of the community.
Gussie and he held long conversations on this enthralling
subject. Then Gussie went on another visit to her friend, and
when she came back so did Rev. Carroll.
One calm, hazy afternoon I was coming slowly up from
the mills. Happening to glance at the kitchen roof, I gasped. It
was on fire in one place. Evidently the dry shingles had caught
fire from a spark. There was not a soul about save Gussie,
Aunt Lucy, and myself. I dashed wildly into the kitchen,
where Gussie was peeling apples.
"The house is on fire," I exclaimed. Gussie dropped her
knife and turned pale.
"Don't wake Mother," was all she said, as she snatched a
bucket of water from the table. The ladder was still lying by
the well. In a second I had raised it to the roof and, while Gussie
went up it like a squirrel and dashed the water on the
flames, I had two more buckets ready for her.
Fortunately the fire had made little headway, though a few
minutes more would have given it a dangerous start. The
flames hissed and died out as Gussie threw on the water, and
in a few seconds only a small black hole in the shingles
remained. Gussie slid down the ladder. She trembled in every
limb, but she put out her wet hand to me with a faint, triumphant
smile. We shook hands across the ladder with a cordiality
never before expressed.
For the next week, in spite of Rev. Carroll, I was happy
when I thought of Gussie and miserable when I thought of
Nellie. I held myself in some way bound to her and—was she
not my ideal? Undoubtedly!
One day I got a letter from my sister. It was long and
newsy, and the eighth page was most interesting.
"If you don't come home and look after Nellie," wrote
Kate, "you'll soon not have her to look after. You remember
that old lover of hers, Rod Allen? Well, he's home from the
west now, immensely rich, they say, and his attentions to
Nellie are the town talk. I think she likes him too. If you bury
yourself any longer at Ashley Mills I won't be responsible for
This lifted an immense weight from my mind, but the
ninth page hurled it back again.
"You never say anything of Miss Ashley in your letters.
What is she like—young or old, ugly or pretty, clever or dull? I
met a lady recently who knows her and thinks she is charming.
She also said Miss Ashley was to be married soon to Rev.
Something-or-Other. Is it true?"
Aye, was it? Quite likely. Kate's letter made a very miserable
man of me. Gussie found me a dull companion that day.
After several vain attempts to rouse me to interest she gave
"There's no use talking to you," she said impatiently. "I
believe you are homesick. That letter you got this morning
looked suspicious. Anyhow, I hope you'll get over it before I
"Are you going away again?" I asked.
"Yes. I am going to stay a few days with Flossie." Flossie
was that inseparable chum of hers.
"You seem to spend a good deal of your time with her," I
Gussie opened her eyes at my tone.
"Why, of course," she said. "Flossie and I have always been
chums. And she needs me more than ever just now, for she is
awfully busy. She is to be married next month."
"Oh, I see—and you—"
"I'm to be bridesmaid, of course, and we've heaps to do.
Flossie wanted to wait until Christmas, but Mr. Martin
is in a—"
"Mr. Martin," I interrupted. "Is Mr. Martin going to marry
"Why, yes. Didn't you know? They just suit each other.
There he comes now. He's going to drive me over, and I'm not
ready. Talk to him, for pity's sake, while I go and dress."
I never enjoyed a conversation more. Rev. Carroll Martin
was a remarkably interesting man.
Nellie married Rod Allen at Christmas and I was best
man. Nellie made a charming little bride, and Rod fairly
worshipped her. My own wedding did not come off until
spring, as Gussie said she could not get ready before that.