Mr. and Ms. Cuthbert are grumpy middle-aged siblings who need help on their farm on Prince Edward Island. They decide to adopt a boy, but what they get instead is an outspoken girl named Anne.
Chapter 2 – Matthew Cuthbert Is Surprised
Matthew Cuthbert drove the horse comfortably over the eight miles to Bright River. It was a pretty road, running along between snug farmsteads, and now and again a bit of forest or a hollow where wild plums grew. The air was sweet with the breath of many apple orchards. The meadows sloped away in the distance to the horizon which was a white and purple mist. The little birds sang as if today were the only day of summer.
Matthew enjoyed the drive, except during the moments when he met women and had to nod to them— because on Prince Edward Island, you are supposed to nod to everyone you meet on the road whether you know them or not.
Matthew dreaded all women except Marilla and Mrs. Rachel. He had an uncomfortable feeling that the mysterious creatures were secretly laughing at him. He may have been quite right in thinking so, because he was an odd-looking man, with an awkward figure and long iron-gray hair that touched his stooping shoulders. He had a full, soft brown beard which he had worn ever since he was twenty. In fact, the way he looked at twenty was very much the same as the way he looked at sixty, except for the grayness of his hair.
When he reached Bright River, there was no sign of any train. He thought he was too early, so he tied his horse in the yard of the small Bright River hotel and went over to the station. The long platform was almost deserted. The only living creature in sight was a girl who was sitting on a pile of shingles. Matthew, barely noting that it was a girl, walked past her as quickly as possible without looking at her. If he had looked, he would have noticed the tense and expectant expression on her face. She was sitting there waiting for something or somebody and, since sitting and waiting was the only thing to do, she just sat and waited with all her energy.
Matthew encountered the stationmaster locking up the ticket office (probably on his way to go home for dinner) and asked him if the five-thirty train would be coming soon.
“The five-thirty train has already come and gone about half an hour ago,” answered the stationmaster briskly. “But there was a passenger dropped off for you—a little girl. She’s sitting out there on the shingles. I asked her to go into the ladies’ waiting room, but she informed me gravely that she preferred to stay outside. ‘There’s more to see outside,’ she said. She’s quite a character, I think.”
“I’m not expecting a girl,” said Matthew blankly. “It’s a boy I’ve come for. He should be here. Mrs. Alexander Spencer was supposed to bring him over here from Nova Scotia for me.”
The stationmaster whistled.
“Guess there’s some mistake,” he said. “Mrs. Spencer came off the train with that girl. She said you and your sister were adopting her from an orphan asylum and that you would come for her. That’s all I know about it—and I haven’t got any more orphans hiding around here.”
“I don’t understand,” said Matthew helplessly, wishing that Marilla was here to deal with the situation.
“Well, you’d better question the girl,” said the stationmaster carelessly. “I dare say she’ll be able to explain—she’s got a tongue of her own, that’s certain. Maybe they were out of boys at the orphanage.”
He walked away, being hungry, and the unfortunate Matthew was left alone to do something difficult for him. Walking up to a girl was more difficult than walking up to a lion in its den. A strange girl. An orphan girl. Walking up to her to demand why she wasn’t a boy. Matthew groaned as he turned and shuffled nervously down the platform towards her.
She had been watching him ever since he had passed her and she had her eyes on him now. Matthew was not looking at her. He wasn’t naturally good at observing people. However, an ordinary observer would have seen this:
A child of about eleven wearing a very short, very tight, very ugly dress of yellowish-gray. She wore a faded brown sailor hat, and beneath that hat, she had two thick braids of red hair that extended down her back. Her face was small, white and thin, and also very freckled. Her mouth was large and so were her eyes, which looked green in some lights but gray in other lights.
If an extraordinary observer looked at her, they would have seen this:
The child’s chin was very pointed. Her big eyes were full of spirit and energy. Her mouth was sweet-lipped and expressive. Her forehead was broad and full. In short, this stray child seemed to have an interesting soul.
Matthew was ludicrously afraid, however, he was spared the ordeal of speaking first because as soon as the girl realized that he was walking toward her, she stood up. She grasped a shabby bag in one thin hand and held out her other hand to him.
“I suppose you are Mr. Matthew Cuthbert of Green Gables?” she said in a peculiarly clear, sweet voice. “I’m very glad to see you. I was beginning to think you weren’t coming for me and I was imagining all the things that might have happened to prevent you. I had made up my mind that if you didn’t come for me tonight, I’d go down the track to that big wild cherry tree at the bend, and climb up into it to sleep all night. I wouldn’t be a bit afraid, and it would be lovely to sleep in a wild cherry tree that was all white with blooming flowers in the moonlight, don’t you think? You could imagine you were sleeping in a marble room, couldn’t you? And I was quite sure you would come for me in the morning, if you didn’t come tonight.”
Matthew had taken her scrawny little hand in an awkward handshake. Right then, he decided what to do. He couldn’t tell this child with glowing eyes that there had been a mistake. He would take her home and let Marilla do that. She couldn’t be left at Bright River anyway, no matter what mistake had been made. So all questions and explanations might as well be deferred until they were safely back at Green Gables.
“I’m sorry I was late,” he said shyly. “Come along. The horse is over in the yard. Give me your bag.”
“Oh, I can carry it,” the child responded cheerfully. “It isn’t heavy. I’ve got all my worldly things in it, but it isn’t heavy. And if it isn’t carried in just the right way, the handle pulls out—so I’d better keep it because I know the exact knack of it. It’s an extremely old bag. Oh, I’m very glad you’ve come, even if it would have been nice to sleep in a wild cherry tree. We’ve got to drive a long way, haven’t we? Mrs. Spencer said it was eight miles. I’m glad because I love riding. Oh, it seems so wonderful that I’m going to live with you and belong to you. I’ve never belonged to anybody—not really. But the asylum was the worst. I’ve only been in it for four months, but that was enough. I don’t suppose you ever were an orphan in an asylum, so you can’t possibly understand what it is like. It’s worse than anything you could imagine. Mrs. Spencer said it was wicked of me to talk like that, but I didn’t mean to be wicked. It’s so easy to be wicked without knowing it, isn’t it? They were good, you know—the asylum people. But there is so little scope for the imagination in an asylum—only the other orphans to look at. It was pretty interesting to imagine things about them—to imagine that perhaps the girl who sat next to you was really the daughter of a royal, who had been stolen away from her parents in her infancy by a cruel nurse who died before she could confess her crime. I used to lie awake at night and imagine things like that, because I didn’t have time in the day. I guess that’s why I’m so thin. I am dreadfully thin, aren’t I? There isn’t a bit of meat on my bones. I do love to imagine being nice and plump, with dimples in my elbows.”
The girl stopped talking, partly because she was out of breath and partly because they had reached the carriage. She didn’t say another word until they had left the village and were driving down a steep little hill. The road was lined with blooming wild cherry trees and slim white birch trees.
The child put out her hand and broke off a branch of a wild plum that brushed against the side of the carriage.
“Isn’t that beautiful? What did that tree, all white and lacy, make you think of?” she asked.
“Well now, I dunno,” said Matthew.
“Well, a bride, of course—a bride all in white with a lovely misty veil. I’ve never seen one, but I can imagine what she would look like. I don’t ever expect to be a bride myself. I’m so homely that nobody will ever want to marry me—unless it might be a foreign missionary. I suppose a foreign missionary wouldn’t be so picky. But I do hope that someday I will have a white dress. That is my highest ideal of earthly bliss. I just love pretty clothes. And I’ve never had a pretty dress in my life that I can remember—but of course, that’s something to look forward to, isn’t it? And then I can imagine that I’m dressed gorgeously. This morning when I left the asylum I felt so ashamed because I had to wear this horrid old dress. All the orphans have to wear them, you know. A merchant in Hopeton last winter donated three hundred yards of this tweed fabric to the asylum. Some people said it was because he couldn’t sell it, but I’d rather believe that it was out of the kindness of his heart, wouldn’t you? When we got on the train, I felt as if everybody must be looking at me and pitying me. But I just went to work and imagined that I had on the most beautiful pale blue silk dress—because when you are imagining, you might as well imagine something worthwhile—and a big hat with flowers, and a gold watch, and gloves and boots. I felt cheered up right away and I enjoyed my trip to the island as much as I could. I wasn’t a bit sick coming over in the boat. Neither was Mrs. Spencer, though she generally is. She said she hadn’t had time to get sick, making sure that I didn’t fall overboard. She said she never stopped moving around. But if it kept her from becoming seasick, it’s a good thing that I did prowl, isn’t it? And I wanted to walk around and see everything that was to be seen on that boat because I didn’t know whether I’d ever have another opportunity. Oh, there are a lot more cherry trees in bloom! This island is so bloomy! I just love it already, and I’m so glad I’m going to live here. I’ve always heard that Prince Edward Island is the prettiest place in the world and I used to imagine that I was living here, but I never really expected I would. It’s delightful when your imaginations come true, isn’t it? But those red roads are so funny. When we got on the train at Charlottetown and the red roads began to flash past, I asked Mrs. Spencer what made them red and she said she didn’t know and for goodness sake not to ask her any more questions. She said I must have asked her a thousand questions already. I suppose I had, too, but how can you find out about things if you don’t ask questions? And what does make the roads red?”
“Well now, I dunno,” said Matthew.
“Well, that is one of the things to find out sometime. Isn’t it splendid to think of all the things there are to find out about? It just makes me feel glad to be alive-it’s such an interesting world. It wouldn’t be half so interesting if we knew all about everything, wouldn’t it? There would be no scope for imagination then, would there? But am I talking too much? People are always telling me I do. Would you rather I didn’t talk? If you say so, I’ll stop. I can stop when I make up my mind to stop, although it’s difficult.”
Matthew, much to his own surprise, was enjoying himself. Like most quiet folks, he liked talkative people when they were willing to do the talking by themselves and did not expect him to keep up. But he had never expected to enjoy the company of a little girl. Women were scary enough, but little girls were worse. He detested the way they ran past him timidly, with side glances, as if they expected him to turn into a monster. That was the Avonlea type of well-bred girls. But this freckled girl was very different, and although he thought it was difficult to keep up with her brisk monologue, he thought that he kind of liked her chatter. So he said as shyly as usual:
“Oh, you can talk as much as you like. I don’t mind.”
“Oh, I’m so glad. I know you and I are going to get along. It’s such a relief to talk freely and not be told that ‘children should be seen and not heard.’ I’ve had that said to me a million times. And people laugh at me because I use big words. But if you have big ideas, you have to use big words to express them, haven’t you?”
“Well now, that seems reasonable,” said Matthew.
“Mrs. Spencer said that my tongue must be floating inside my mouth. But it isn’t—it’s firmly fastened at one end, just like everybody else’s. Mrs. Spencer said your place was named Green Gables. I asked her all about it. And she said there were trees all around it. That made me happier than ever. I just love trees. And there weren’t any at all at the asylum. There were only a few poor itty-bitty shrubs out in front with little fences around them. They looked just like orphans, too. It used to make me want to cry looking at them. I used to say to them, ‘Oh, you poor little things! If you were out in a great big forest with other trees all around you and with moss and Junebells growing over your roots and a brook nearby and birds singing in your branches, you could grow, couldn’t you? But you can’t where you are. I know just exactly how you feel, little trees.’ I felt sorry to leave them behind this morning. You get so attached to things like that, don’t you? Is there a brook anywhere near Green Gables? I forgot to ask Mrs. Spencer about that.”
“Well now, yes, there’s one right next to the house.”
“Fancy. It’s always been one of my dreams to live near a brook. I never expected I would, though. Dreams don’t often come true, do they? Wouldn’t it be nice if they did? But right now, I feel pretty nearly perfectly happy. I can’t feel exactly perfectly happy because—well, what color would you call this?”
She pulled one of her long braids over her thin shoulder and held it up in front of Matthew’s eyes. Matthew was not used to guessing the tints of ladies’ hair, but in this case, there wasn’t any doubt.
“It’s red, isn’t it?” he said.
The girl let the braid drop back with a sigh. The sigh seemed to come from deep inside her, as deep as her toes, and exhale every sorrow of the world.
“Yes, it’s red,” she said. “Now you see why I can’t be perfectly happy. Nobody with red hair could be happy. I don’t mind the other things so much—the freckles and the green eyes and my skinniness. I can imagine them away. I can imagine that I have a beautiful rose leaf complexion and lovely violet eyes. But I cannot imagine that red hair away. I do my best. I think to myself, ‘Now my hair is a glorious black. Black as a raven’s wing.’ But all the time, I know it is just plain red and it breaks my heart. It will be my lifelong sorrow. I read of a girl once in a novel who had a lifelong sorrow, but it wasn’t red hair. Her hair was pure gold rippling back from her alabaster brow. What is an alabaster brow? I could never find out. Can you tell me?”
“Well now, I’m afraid I don’t know what that is,” said Matthew, who was getting a little dizzy. He felt like he had once felt in his youth when another boy had pressured him to ride a merry-go-round at a picnic.
“Well, whatever it was, it must have been something nice because she was divinely beautiful. Have you ever imagined what it must feel like to be divinely beautiful?”
“Well now, no, I haven’t,” confessed Matthew.
“I have. Often. Which would you rather be—divinely beautiful or dazzlingly clever or angelically good?”
“Well now, I—I don’t know exactly.”
“Neither do I. I can never decide. But it doesn’t make much real difference for it isn’t likely I’ll ever be either. It’s certain I’ll never be angelically good. Mrs. Spencer says—oh, Mr. Cuthbert! Oh, Mr. Curthbert!! Oh, Mr. Cuthbert!!!”
Of course, that was not what Mrs. Spencer had said; and it wasn’t the case that the child had fallen out of the carriage or Matthew had done anything astonishing.
They had simply come around a curve in the road and found themselves in the “Avenue.”
The “Avenue,” so called by the Newbridge people, was a stretch of road that was four or five hundred yards long, completely arched over with huge, wide-spreading apple trees that were planted years ago by an eccentric old farmer.
Overhead, there was a large canopy tree with snowy white flowers. Below the branches, the air was full of a purple twilight and far ahead the sunset sky shone like a great rose window at a cathedral. Its beauty seemed to strike the child speechless. She leaned back in the carriage with her thin hands clasped and her face lifted rapturously. Even when they had passed the scene and were driving down the long slope to Newbridge, she never moved or spoke. Still, with a rapt face, she gazed afar into the western sunset.
Through Newbridge, a bustling little village where dogs barked at them and small boys hooted and curious faces peered from the windows, they drove, still in silence. When three more miles had passed, the child still hadn’t spoken. Apparently, she could keep silent as energetically as she could talk.
“I guess you’re feeling pretty tired and hungry,” Matthew ventured to say at last. He thought that must be the reason for her silence. “But we aren’t far now—only another mile.”
She came out of her daydream with a deep sigh and looked at him with the dreamy gaze of a soul that had been wandering afar.
“Oh, Mr. Cuthbert,” she whispered, “that place we came through—that white place–what was it?”
“Well now, you must mean the Avenue,” said Matthew after a few moments of thinking. “It’s kind of a pretty place.”
“Pretty? Oh, ‘pretty’ doesn’t seem like the right word to use. Nor ‘beautiful,’ either. Those words aren’t strong enough. Oh, it was wonderful. Wonderful! It’s the first thing I have ever seen that couldn’t be improved on by imagination. It just satisfies me here”—she put on hand on her chest—“it made my heart ache, and yet it was a pleasant ache. Have you ever had an ache like that, Mr. Cuthbert?”
“Well now, I just can’t remember that I ever had.”
“I have it lots of times—whenever I see anything royally beautiful. But they shouldn’t call that lovely place the Avenue. There is no meaning in a name like that. They should call it—let me see—the White Way of Delight. Isn’t that a nice imaginative name? When I don’t like the name of a place or a person, I always imagine a new one and always think of them with that name. There was a girl at the asylum whose name was Hepzibah Jenkins, but I always imagined her as Rosalia DeVere. Other people may call that place the Avenue, but I shall always call it the White Way of Delight. Have we really only another mile to go before we get home? I’m glad and I’m sorry. I’m sorry because this drive has been so pleasant and I’m always sorry when pleasant things end. Something even more pleasant might come after, but you can never be sure. And it’s so often the case that it isn’t more pleasant. That has been my experience anyway. But I’m glad that we’ll be getting home. You see, I’ve never had a real home since I can remember. It gives me that pleasant ache again just to think of coming to a real home. Oh, isn’t that pretty!”
They had driven over the crest of a hill. Below them was a pond which looked like a river because it was so long.
A bridge crossed it in the middle. At the end of the lake, there were amber-hued sandhills that surrounded the dark blue water. The water had a glorious color that seemed to shift hues—a spiritual blue, a rosy pink and an ethereal green, and other elusive colors that have never been named. Above the bridge, there were groves of fir and maple trees with wavering shadows.
Here and there a wild plum tree leaned out from the bank like a girl clad in white looking down at her own reflection in the water.
At the other end of the pond, frogs sang their mournfully sweet chorus. There was a little gray house peering around a white apple orchard on a slope beyond and, although it was not quite dark yet, a light was shining from one of its windows.
“That’s Barry’s pond,” said Matthew.
“Oh, I don’t like that name, either. I’ll call it—let me see—the Lake of Shining Waters. Yes, that is the right name for it. I know because of the thrill. When I hit on a name that fits perfectly, it gives me a thrill. Do things ever give you a thrill?”
Matthew thought about it.
“Well now, yes. It always kind of gives me a thrill to see those ugly white grubs and insects that come up in the cucumber garden. I hate the look of them.”
“Oh, I don’t think that we are talking about the same kind of thrill. Do you? There doesn’t seem to be much connection between grubs and lakes of shining waters, does there? But why do other people call it Barry’s pond?”
“I think because Mr. Barry lives up there in that house. Orchard Slope is the name of his place. If it wasn’t for that big bush behind it, you could see Green Gables from here. But we have to go over the bridge and around, so it’s nearly half a mile further.”
“Does Mr. Barry have any little girls? Well, not so little—about my size?”
“He’s got a daughter who’s about eleven. Her name is Diana.”
“Oh!” with a long intake of breath. “What a perfectly lovely name!”
“Well now, I dunno. There’s something dreadful about that name, to me. I’d rather Jane or Mary or some sensible name like that. But when Diana was born, a schoolmaster was staying there, and they let him name the child. He called her Diana.”
“I wish there had been a schoolmaster like that around when I was born. Oh, here we are at the bridge. I’m going to shut my eyes tight. I’m always afraid of going over bridges. I can’t help imagining that just as we get to the middle, the bridge will crumple up like a pocket knife. So I shut my eyes. But I always have to open them anyway when I think we’re getting near the middle. Because, you see, if the bridge actually did crumple up, I’d want to see it crumple. It would make a rumbling noise. I always like the rumble part of it. Isn’t it splendid that there are so many things in this world to love? There! We’re over the bridge. Now, I’ll look back. Good night, dear Lake of Shining Waters. I always say good night to the things I love, just as I would to people. I think they like it. Look! That water looks as if it was smiling at me.”
When they had driven up the hill and gone around a corner, Matthew said:
“We’re pretty close to home now. That’s Green Gables over—“
“Oh, don’t tell me,” she interrupted breathlessly, grabbing his partially raised arm and shutting her eyes so that she wouldn’t see his gesture. “Let me guess. I’m sure I’ll guess right.”
She opened her eyes and looked around her. They were on the top of the hill. The sun had set some time ago, but the landscape was still clear in the mellow dusk. To the west, a dark church spire rose up against a marigold sky. Below was a little valley and beyond was a long, gently-rising slope with snug farmhouses scattered along it. The child’s eyes darted from one to another, eager and wistful. At last, her eyes lingered on one farmhouse away to the left, far back from the road, dimly white with beautiful trees in the twilight of the surrounding woods. Over it, in the southwest sky, a great crystal-white star was shining like a lamp of guidance and promise.
“That’s it, isn’t it?” she said, pointing.
Matthew slapped the reins on the horse’s back with delight.
“Well now, you’ve guessed it! But I bet Mrs. Spencer described it to you already.”
“No, she didn’t—really she didn’t. She just told me it was a farmhouse. I didn’t have any real idea what it looked like. But just as soon as I saw it, I felt it was home. Oh, it seems as if I must be in a dream. Do you know, my arm must be black and blue from the elbow up because I’ve pinched myself so many times today. Every little while, a horrible sickening feeling would come over me and I’d be so afraid that it was all a dream. Then I’d pinch myself to see if it was real—but then I’d stop pinching myself, because if it really was just a dream, I wouldn’t want to wake up from it. But it’s real. It’s actually all real! And we’re nearly home.”
With a sigh of rapture, she relapsed into silence. Matthew stirred uneasily. He felt glad that it would be Marilla who would have to tell this girl that it wasn’t real, and that this home wouldn’t become hers after all. They drove over Lynde’s Hollow, where it was already quite dark, but not so dark that Mrs. Rachel could not see them from her window and watch them go up the hill and down the long lane of Green Gables. By the time they arrived at the house, Matthew was nervous with a strange feeling that he didn’t understand.
He wasn’t thinking about the trouble that this mistake has caused Marilla and him. But rather, he was thinking about the child’s disappointment. When he thought of that rapt light in her eyes, he had an uncomfortable feeling. It was similar to the feeling of guilt before he had to kill a lamb or calf.
The yard was quite dark and the tree leaves were rustling all around.
“Listen to the trees talking in their sleep,” she whispered, as he lifted her off the carriage and onto the ground. “What nice dreams they must have!”
Then, holding tightly to the carpet bag which contained “all her world things,” she followed him into the house.
About this story:
Anne of Green Gables was written in 1908 by Lucy Maud Montgomery. Here, it is rewritten by Judy Shinohara for advanced English learners to enjoy.