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 5 – Anne’s History
“Do you know,” said Anne, “I’ve made up my mind to enjoy this drive. In my experience, I’ve learned that you can nearly always enjoy things if you make up your mind that you will. Of course, you must make it up firmly. I’m not going to think about going back to the asylum while we’re having our drive. I’m just going to think about the drive. Oh, look, there’s one little early wild rose out! Isn’t it lovely? Don’t you think it must be glad to be a rose? Wouldn’t it be nice if roses could talk? I’m sure they could tell us such lovely things. And isn’t pink the most bewitching color in the world? I love it, but I can’t wear it. Redheaded people can’t wear pink, not even in their imagination. Did you ever know of anybody whose hair was red when she was young, but her hair color changed when she grew up?”
“No, I don’t know anyone like that,” said Marilla mercilessly, “and I don’t think it will happen to you either.”
“Well, that is another hope gone. ‘My life is a perfect graveyard of buried hopes.’ That’s a sentence that I read in a book once, and I say it over to comfort myself whenever I’m disappointed in anything.”
“I don’t see how that sentence could be comforting,” said Marilla.
“Well, because it sounds so nice and romantic, just as if I were a heroine in a book, you know. I’m so fond of romantic things, and a graveyard full of buried hopes is about as romantic as one can imagine, isn’t it? I’m glad I have one. Are we going across the Lake of Shining Waters today?”
“We’re not going over Barry’s Pond, if that’s what you mean. We’re going by the shore road.”
“Shore road sounds nice,” said Anne dreamily. “Is it as nice as it sounds? Just when you said ‘shore road’ I saw it in a picture in my mind, as quick as that! And White Sands is a pretty name, too, but I don’t like it as much as I like Avonlea. Avonlea is a lovely name. It sounds like music. How far is it to White Sands?”
“It’s five miles. Since you are so set on talking, you might as well talk about something useful. Tell me what you know about yourself.”
“Oh, what I know about myself isn’t really worth talking about,” said Anne eagerly. “If you’ll let me tell you what I imagine about myself, it’ll be much more interesting.”
“No, I don’t want any of your imaginings. Just stick to the straight facts. Begin at the beginning. Where were you born and how old are you?”
“I turned eleven last March,” said Anne, resigning herself to straight facts with a little sigh. “And I was was born in Bolingbroke, Nova Scotia. My father’s name was Walter Shirley, and he was a teacher in Bolingbroke High School. My mother’s name was Bertha Shirley. Aren’t Walter and Bertha lovely names? I’m so glad my parents had nice names. It would be a real disgrace to have a father named—well, Jedediah or something like that.”
“I guess it doesn’t matter what a person’s name is as long as he behaves himself,” said Marilla, feeling good about passing down a wise and useful moral.
“Well, I don’t know.” Anne looked thoughtful. “I read in a book once that a rose, even if it was called another name, would smell as sweet, but I’ve never been able to believe it. I don’t believe a rose would be as nice if it was called a ‘thistle’ or a ’skunk cabbage.’ I suppose my father could have been a good man, even if he had been called Jedediah, but I’m sure it would have been strange. Well, my mother was a teacher in the school, too, but when she married my father, she gave up teaching, of course. A husband was enough of a responsibility. Mrs. Thomas said that when they got married, they were like a pair of babies who were as poor as church mice. They went to live in a teeny tiny yellow house in Bolingbroke. I’ve never seen that house, but I’ve imagined it thousands of times. I think it must have had honeysuckle flowers over the windows and lilacs in the front yard and lilies just inside the gate. Yes, and beautiful curtains in all the windows. I was born in that house.
“Mrs. Thomas said that I was the homeliest baby she ever saw because I was so scrawny and tiny and had huge eyes. But she said that my mother thought I was perfectly beautiful. Of course, a mother is a better judge of a baby’s beauty, don’t you think? I’m glad she was satisfied with me, anyhow. I would feel so sad if I thought that I was a disappointment to her because she didn’t live long after that, you see. She died of a fever when I was just three months old. I wish she’d lived long enough for me to speak to her. I think it would be so sweet to say ‘mother,’ don’t you? And father died four days afterward from fever, too. That left me an orphan. You see, nobody wanted to take me, even then. It seems to be my fate. My father and mother had both come from places far away and it was well known that they didn’t have any living relatives. Finally, Mrs. Thomas said she’d take me, though she was poor and her husband was a drunk. She brought me up with milk from a bottle. Do you know if there is anything special about being bottle-fed? Because whenever I was naughty, Mrs. Thomas used to ask how I could be such a bad girl when she had brought me up and bottle-fed me. She said it so reproachfully.
“Mr. and Mrs. Thomas moved away from Bolingbroke to Marysville, and I lived with them until I was eight years old. I helped look after the Thomas children—there were four of them, younger than me—and I can tell you they took a lot of care. Then, Mr. Thomas was killed when he fell under a train. His mother offered to take Mrs. Thomas and the children in, but she didn’t want me. Mrs. Thomas was at her wits’ end.
“Then, Mrs. Hammond, from up the river, came down and said she’d take me because I was handy with children. I went up the river to live with her in a little clearing in the forest. It was a very lonesome place. I’m sure I could never have lived there if I didn’t have an imagination. Mr. Hammond worked at a little sawmill up there, and Mrs. Hammond had eight children. She had twins three times. I like babies in moderation, but twins three times in succession is too much. I told Mrs. Hammond so firmly when the last pair came. I used to get so dreadfully tired carrying them around.
“I lived with Mrs. Hammond for over two years, and then Mr. Hammond died and Mrs. Hammond got a job. She divided her children among her relatives and went to the States. I had to go to the asylum at Hopeton because nobody would take me. They didn’t want me at the asylum, either. They said they were already overcrowded. But they had to take me and I was there four months until Mrs. Spencer came.”
Anne finished with another sigh. It was a sigh of relief this time. Evidently, she did not like talking about her experiences in a world that had not wanted her.
“Did you ever go to school?” demanded Marilla, turning the horse down the shore road.
“Not very much. I went a little during the last year that I stayed with Mrs. Thomas. When I went up the river, we were so far from a school that I could walk to it in winter and there was a vacation in summer, so I could only go in the spring and fall. But of course, I went while I was at the asylum. I can read pretty well and I know so many poems by heart.”
She listed all the poems that she knew: “The Battle of Hohenlinden,” “Edinburgh after Flodden,” “Bingen of the Rhine,” “Lady of the Lake,” and “The Seasons.”
“Don’t you just love poetry that gives you tingles up and down your back? In the fifth-grade readers, there is a book of poems. One of the poems is called, ‘The Downfall of Poland’ and it is just full of thrills. Of course, I wasn’t in the fifth grade—I was only in the fourth—but the big girls used to lend me their books to read.”
“Were those women—Mrs. Thomas and Mrs. Hammond—good to you?” asked Marilla, looking at Anne out of the corner of her eye.
“Oh…,” faltered Anne. Her sensitive little face suddenly flushed red and she looked embarrassed. “Oh, they meant to be—I know they meant to be as good and kind as possible. And when people mean to be good to you, you don’t mind very much when they… aren’t. They had a good deal to worry about, you know. It’s very tiring to have a drunk husband, you see. And it must be very tiring to have twins three times in a row, don’t you think? But I feel sure that they meant to be good to me.”
Marilla asked no more questions. Anne gave herself up to silence. They went over the shore road and Marilla guided the horse while pondering deeply. Pity was suddenly stirring in her heart for the child. What a starved, unloved life she had lived—a life of bad luck, poverty, and neglect. Marilla was smart enough to read between the lines of Anne’s story and guess the truth. No wonder Anne had been so delighted at the prospect of a real home. It was a pity that she had to be sent back. What if Marilla indulged Matthew’s request and let the girl stay? He was so set on it, and the child seemed like a nice, teachable little girl.
“She’s got too much to say,” thought Marilla, “but she might be trained out of that. And she never says anything rude. She’s ladylike.”
The shore road was woodsy, wild, and lonesome. On the right side, there were fir trees whose spirits were strong and grew thickly. On the left, there were steep red sandstone cliffs, so near the road that it would have made an inexperienced horse nervous. Down the base of the cliffs were heaps of rocks and little sandy coves. Beyond, the sea was shimmering and blue. Over the sea, the seagulls flew with the sunlight on their wings.
“Isn’t the sea wonderful?” said Anne, coming out of her daydream.
“Once, when I lived in Marysville, Mr. Thomas hired an express carriage and took us all to spend the day at the shore ten miles away. I enjoyed every moment of that day, even if I had to look after the children the whole time. I lived it over in happy dreams for years. But this shore is nicer than the Marysville shore. Aren’t those seagulls splendid? Would you like to be a seagull? I think I’d like to be one—that is, if I couldn’t be a human girl. Don’t you think it would be nice to wake up at sunrise and swoop down over the water and over the lovely blue sea all day, and then at night, to fly back to one’s nest? Oh, I can just imagine myself doing it. What’s that up ahead? What’s that big house, please?”
“That’s the White Sands Hotel. Mr. Kirk runs it, but the tourist season hasn’t begun yet. There are heaps of Americans that come there for the summer. They always come for this shore.”
“I was afraid that it might be Mrs. Spencer’s place,” said Anne mournfully. “I don’t want to get there. Somehow, it feels like the world when end when we arrive.”
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.