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 3 – Marilla Cuthbert is Surprised
Marilla came briskly forward as Matthew opened the door. But when her eyes fell on the odd little figure in the stiff, ugly dress, with the long braids of red hair and the eager, luminous eyes, she stopped in amazement.
“Matthew Cuthbert, who’s that?” she said. “Where’s the boy?”
“There wasn’t any boy,” said Matthew wretchedly. “There was only her.”
He nodded at the child, remembering that he had never even asked her name.
“No boy! But there must have been a boy,” insisted Marilla. “We sent a message to Mrs. Spencer to bring a boy.”
“Well, she didn’t. She brought her. I asked the station master. And I had to bring her home. She couldn’t be left there, no matter where the mistake had come from.”
“Well isn’t this a piece of work!” said Marilla.
During this conversation, the child had remained silent, her eyes moving from one to the other, all the animation fading from her face. Suddenly, she seemed to grasp the full meaning of what had been said. Dropping her precious bag, she sprang forward a step and clasped her hands.
“You don’t want me!” she cried. “You don’t want me because I’m not a boy! I might have expected it. Nobody ever did want me. I should have known this was all too good to last. I should have known nobody would want me. Oh, what am I going to do? I’m going to burst into tears!”
And she certainly burst into tears. Sitting down on a chair by the table, and burying her face in her arms over the table, she cried a storm. Marilla and Matthew looked at each other across the stove. Neither of them knew what to say or do. Finally, Marilla stepped forward.
“Well, well, there’s no need to cry so much.”
“Yes, there is a need!” The child raised her head quickly, revealing a tear-stained face and trembling lips. “You would cry, too, if you were an orphan and had come to a place you thought was going to be home and found that they didn’t want you because you weren’t a boy. Oh, this is the most tragic thing that has ever happened to me!”
Something like a reluctant smile fell on Marilla’s grim expression.
“Well, don’t cry anymore. We’re not going to kick you out tonight. You’ll have to stay here until we investigate this thing. What’s your name?”
The child hesitated for a moment.
“Will you please call me Cordelia?” she said eagerly.
“Call you Cordelia? Is that your name?”
“No, it’s not exactly my name, but I would love to be called Cordelia. It’s such a perfectly elegant name.”
“I don’t know what on earth you mean. If Cordelia isn’t your name, what is?”
“Anne Shirley,” she said reluctantly, “but, oh, please do call me Cordelia. It can’t matter much to you if you aren’t going to keep me, can it? And Anne is such an unromantic name.”
“Unromantic? That’s ridiculous,” said the unsympathetic Marilla. “Anne is a real good, plain, sensible name. You have no need to be ashamed of it.”
“Oh, I’m not ashamed of it,” explained Anne, “only I like Cordelia better. I’ve always imagined that my name was Cordelia—at least, for the last few years. When I was young, I used to imagine it was Geraldine, but I like Cordelia better now. But if you call me Anne, please call me Anne spelled with an E.”
“What difference does it make how it’s spelled?” asked Marilla with another rusty smile as she picked up the teapot.
“Oh, it makes such a difference. It looks so much nicer, too. When you hear a name pronounced, can’t you always see it in your mind, just as if it was printed out? I can. And A-n-n looks dreadful, but A-n-n-e looks so much more distinguished. If you’ll only call me Anne spelled with an E, I will try to reconcile myself to not being called Cordelia.”
“Very well, then, Anne spelled with an E, can you tell us how this mistake came to be made? We sent a message to Mrs. Spencer to bring us a boy. Were there no boys at the asylum?”
“Oh, yes, there was an abundance of them. But Mrs. Spencer said distinctly that you wanted a girl who was about eleven years old. And the matron said that I would be perfect. You don’t know how delighted I was. I couldn’t sleep all last night because of how joyful I was. Oh,” she added reproachfully, turning to Matthew, “why didn’t you tell me at the station that you didn’t want me and leave me there? If I hadn’t seen the White Way of Delight and the Lake of Shining Waters, it wouldn’t be so hard.”
“What on earth does she mean?” demanded Marilla, staring at Matthew.
“She—she’s just referring to some conversation we had on the road,” said Matthew hastily. “I’m going out to put the horse in the barn, Marilla. Have tea ready when I come back.”
“Did Mrs. Spencer bring anybody over besides you?” continued Marilla when Matthew had gone out.
“She brought Lily Jones for herself. Lily is only five years old and she is very beautiful and had nut-brown hair. If I was very beautiful and had nut-brown hair, would you keep me?”
“No. We want a boy to help Matthew on the farm. A girl wouldn’t be any use to us. Take off your hat. I’ll put it and your bag on the hall table.”
Anne took off her hat meekly. Matthew came back and they sat down to eat dinner. But Anne couldn’t eat. In vain, she nibbled at the bread and butter and pecked at the apple jam on her plate. She hardly made a dent in her food.
“You’re not eating anything,” said Marilla sharply, eying her as if it were a serious shortcoming. Anne sighed.
“I can’t. I’m in the depths of despair. Can you eat when you are in the depths of despair?”
“I’ve never been in the depths of despair, so I can’t say,” responded Marilla.
“Weren’t you? Well, did you ever try to imagine that you were in the depths of despair?”
“No, I didn’t.”
“Then I don’t think you can understand what it’s like. It’s a very uncomfortable feeling indeed. When you try to eat, a lump comes up in your throat and you can’t swallow anything, not even if it was a piece of chocolate caramel. I had one piece of chocolate caramel once two years ago and it was simply delicious. I’ve often dreamed of it since then, but I always wake up just before I’m about to eat one. I hope you won’t be offended because I can’t eat. Everything is extremely nice, but I still can’t eat.”
“I guess she’s tired,” said Matthew, who hadn’t spoken since his return from the barn. Best to put her to bed, Marilla.”
Marilla had been wondering where Anne should be put to bed. She had prepared a couch in the kitchen for the expected boy. But, although it was neat and clean, it didn’t seem quite right to put a girl there somehow. But the spare room was out of the question for a stray child. So what about the east gable room?
Marilla lighted a candle and told Anne to follow her, which Anne did spiritlessly, taking her hat and bag from the hall table as she passed. The hall was incredibly clean. The little gable room was even cleaner.
Marilla set the candle on a three-legged triangular table.
“I suppose you have a nightgown?” she questioned.
“Yes, I have two. The matron of the asylum made them for me. They’re terribly stingy. There is never enough to go around in an asylum, so things are always cheap and small—at least in a poor asylum like ours. I hate these nightgowns. But I can dream that I’m wearing a lovely long dress that trails on the floor, with frills around the neck.”
“Well, get changed as quickly as you can and go to bed. I’ll come back in a few minutes for the candle. I don’t trust you to put it out yourself. You’d likely set the house on fire.”
When Marilla had gone, Anne looked around wistfully. The whitewashed walls were so painfully bare that she thought the walls must feel pain over their own bareness. The floor was bare, too, except for a round, braided mat in the middle.
In one corner was the bed, which was high and old-fashioned, with four dark posts. In the other corner was the triangular table that was mentioned before. It was adorned with a fat, red pin-cushion that looked so hard that it might bend any pin that was stuck into it. Above it, a little mirror was hung on the wall. Midway between the table and bed was the window, with an icy white frill over it. Across the room from the window, there was a washstand, which was a table with a basin of water.
The whole room was rigid, and it sent a shiver down Anne’s bones. With a sob, she hastily took off her clothes and put on the thin nightgown, and jumped into bed where she buried her face into the pillow and pulled the blanket over her head.
Marilla came up for the candle and saw the articles of clothing scattered all over the floor. She deliberately picked up Anne’s clothes, placed them neatly on the yellow chair, and then, taking the candle, went over to the bed.
“Good night,” she said, a little awkwardly, but not unkindly.
Anne’s white face and big eyes appeared from under the blanket suddenly.
“How can you call it a ‘good’ night when you know it must be the very worst night I’ve ever had?” she said reproachfully.
Then, she dived down under the blankets again.
Marilla went slowly down to the kitchen and proceeded to wash the dinner dishes. Matthew was smoking—a sure sign of stress. He seldom smoked, because Marilla was against such a filthy habit, but at certain times, he felt driven to it. On those occasions, Marilla allowed it, realizing that a man must have some way to vent his emotions.
“Well, isn’t this great,” she said wrathfully. “This is what comes of sending messages instead of visiting directly. Those Spencers have twisted our message somehow. One of us will have to drive over and see Mrs. Spencer tomorrow, that’s certain. This girl will have to be sent back to the asylum.”
“Yes, I suppose so,” said Matthew reluctantly.
“You suppose so! Don’t you know?”
“Well now, she’s a nice little girl, Marilla. It’s kind of a pity to send her back when she’s so set on staying here.”
“Matthew Cuthbert, you don’t mean that you think we should keep her!”
Marilla’s astonishment couldn’t have been greater if Matthew said he wanted to stand on his head.
“Well now, no, I suppose not—not exactly,” stammered Matthew. He felt uncomfortable being driven into a corner for his precise meaning. “I suppose… it’s unreasonable to keep her.”
“Exactly! She wouldn’t be any good for us.”
“Well, we might be good for her,” said Matthew unexpectedly.
“Matthew Cuthbert, I believe that child has bewitched you! I can see plain as day that you want to keep her.”
“Well now, she’s a real interesting little girl,” persisted Matthew. “You should have heard her talking when we were driving back from the station.”
“Oh, she can talk fast enough. I saw that at once. That’s not a good thing, you know. I don’t like children who have so much to say. I don’t want an orphan girl and even if I did, I wouldn’t pick out a girl like her. There’s something I don’t understand about her. No, she’s got to be returned right away.”
“I could hire a French boy to help me,” said Matthew, “and she’d be good company for you.”
“I’m in no need of company,” said Marilla. “And I’m not going to keep her.”
“Well now, it’s just as you say, of course, Marilla,” said Matthew, rising and putting his pipe away. “I’m going to bed.”
And so, he went to bed. Marilla also went to bed, after she had put the dishes away, absolutely frowning.
And upstairs, in the east gable room, a lonely, friendless child cried herself to sleep.
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.