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.
Anne had been at Green Gables for two weeks before Mrs. Rachel Lynde arrived to meet and inspect her. It wasn’t Mrs. Rachel’s fault that she was so late. She had gotten a severe case of the flu and she had been confined to her house ever since her last visit to Green Gables. Mrs. Rachel didn’t get sick very often and actually looked down on people who did get sick often. But the flu, she insisted, was unlike other illnesses. Anyone could catch it.
As soon as her doctor allowed her to go outside, she hurried over to Green Gables, bursting with curiosity to see Matthew and Marilla’s orphan, who everyone in Avonlea has been talking about.
Anne had made good use of every waking moment of those two weeks. Already she was acquainted with every tree and shrub around Green Gables. She had discovered that a lane opened out below the apple orchard and ran up through a belt of woods. She had explored that lane to its farthest end with all its delicious brooks and bridges. She saw fir trees, wild cherry trees, and maple trees.
She made friends with the spring in the hollow—that wonderful deep, clear icy-cold spring. It was surrounded by smooth red sandstones and rimmed with great clumps of water fern. And beyond it, there was a log bridge over the brook.
That bridge led Anne’s dancing feet up over a woody hill, where twilight reigned under the straight, thick fir trees and spruce trees. The only flowers there were delicate “June bells,” which were the shyest and sweetest flowers of the forest, and a few pale starflowers, which looked like spirit creatures.
All these adventures were made in the short and sporadic playtime that was assigned by Marilla. And when she’d come back, she would talk about her discoveries until Matthew and Marilla had nearly gone deaf. Not that Matthew ever complained. As a matter of fact, he listened to it all with a wordless smile of enjoyment on his face. Marilla permitted the “chatter” until she found herself becoming interested in it. When she realized that, she immediately told Anne off for talking too much.
When Mrs. Rachel came, Anne was out in the orchard. She was wandering around through the lush grass and playing in the sunshine. Mrs. Rachel went inside to have a long talk with Marilla. She complained about every ache and pain that she had during her sickness.
Marilla thought that Mrs. Rachel enjoyed complaining so much that getting sick must have been worth it.
When Mrs. Rachel finished describing all the details, she finally introduced the real reason for her visit.
“I’ve been hearing some surprising things about you and Matthew.”
“I don’t think you could be any more surprised than I am myself,” said Marilla. “I’m still getting over my surprise now.”
“It was too bad that there was such a mistake,” said Mrs. Rachel sympathetically. “Couldn’t you have sent her back?”
“I suppose we could, but we decided not to. Matthew took a liking to her. And I think I like her, too—although I admit she has some faults. The house seems like a different place already. She’s a really bright little thing.”
Marilla said more than she had intended to say. She could see the disapproval in Mrs. Rachel’s expression.
“It’s a great responsibility you’ve taken on yourself,” said Mrs. Rachel gloomily, “especially when you’ve never had any experience with children. You don’t know much about her or her disposition, I suppose, and there’s no guessing how a child like that will turn out. But I don’t want to discourage you, Marilla.”
“I’m not feeling discouraged,” Marilla responded. “When I make up my mind to do something, I stick with it. I guess you’d like to see Anne. I’ll call her in.”
When called, Anne came running in. Her face was sparkling with the delight of her orchard adventure. But she suddenly became shy when she discovered an unexpected stranger in the house. She stopped inside the door, confused.
Anne certainly was an odd-looking creature. She was wearing the short tweed dress from the asylum, which made her thin legs look ungracefully long. Her freckles were more numerous and obtrusive than ever from her sunny adventures. The wind had ruffled her hair into disorder, and it looked as red as can be.
“Well, they didn’t pick you because of your looks, that’s for sure,” Mrs. Rachel Lynde blurted out emphatically.
Mrs. Rachel was one of those popular people who pride themselves on speaking their mind without fear. “She’s terribly skinny and homely, Marilla. Come here, child, and let me have a look at you. Oh goodness, have you ever seen such freckles? And hair as red as carrots! I said come here, child!”
Anne “came there,” but not exactly as Mrs. Rachel expected. With one leap, she crossed the kitchen floor and stood in front of Mrs. Rachel. Her face was red with anger, her lips were shaking, and her whole slender body was trembling from head to foot.
“I hate you,” she cried in a choked voice, stamping her foot on the floor. “I hate you. I hate you. I hate you!” She stamped louder each time she said it. “How dare you call me skinny and ugly? How dare you say I’m freckled and redheaded? You are a rude, impolite, heartless woman!”
“Anne!” exclaimed Marilla.
But Anne continued to face Mrs. Rachel fearlessly, head up, eyes blazing, hands clenched, and indignation exhaling from her like a storm.
“How dare you say such things about me?” she repeated. “How would you like to have such things said about you? How would you like to be told that you are fat and clumsy and that you don’t have a single spark of imagination in you? I don’t care if I hurt your feelings by saying so! I hope I hurt them. You have hurt mine worse than they were ever hurt before—even by Mrs. Thomas’ drunk husband. And I will never forgive you for it! Never! Never!”
She stamped her foot again and again.
“Have you ever seen such a temper!” exclaimed the horrified Mrs. Rachel.
“Anne, go to your room and stay there until I come up,” said Marilla. The words seemed to have difficulty coming out of her mouth.
Anne, bursting into tears, rushed to the hall door, slammed it so hard that the walls shook, and fled through the hall and up the stairs like a whirlwind. Another slam from the east gable signaled that Anne was in her room.
“Well, I wouldn’t want to be you and have to raise THAT child, Marilla,” said Mrs. Rachel with a serious voice.
Marilla opened to mouth to speak, but she didn’t know if she should apologize for herself or apologize for Anne. What she actually said surprised herself:
“You should have said that about her looks, Rachel.”
“Marilla Cuthbert, you aren’t defending the child, are you? Are you excusing such a terrible display of anger like that?” demanded Mrs. Rachel.
“No,” said Marilla slowly, “I’m not trying to excuse her. She’s been very naughty and I’ll have to scold her for that. But we must make allowances for her. She’s never been taught what is right. And you were too hard on her, Rachel.”
Marilla was proud of herself for saying that last sentence, although she surprised herself again for saying it. Mrs. Rachel looked offended when she stood up.
“Well, I see that I’ll have to be very careful what I say after this, Marilla, since the sensitive feelings of orphans have to be considered above anything else. Oh, no, I’m not angry. I feel sorry for you. I feel so sorry for you that there is no room left in my mind for anger. You’ll have your own troubles with that child. But if you’ll take my advice—which I suppose you won’t, even though I’ve raised ten children and buried two—you should scold her and beat her with a stick, too! I always say that PAIN is the most effective language for that kind of child. Her temper matches her hair. Well, good evening, Marilla. I hope you’ll come down to see me as often as usual. But you can’t expect me to visit here again any time soon. I don’t want any children flying at me and insulting me like that. I’ve never—in all my life—experienced something like that.”
Mrs. Rachel walked out of the house and away.
Marilla, with a very grim face, headed to the east gable.
On the way upstairs, she pondered uneasily about what she should do. She felt very upset about the whole scene. It was so unfortunate that Anne’s temper came out in front of Mrs. Rachel, of all people! Then Marilla suddenly became aware of an uncomfortable feeling: she felt more humiliation than sorrow at the discovery of Anne’s personality flaw. And how was she supposed to punish the child? Mrs. Rachel’s casual suggestion of beating her with a tree branch? That did not appeal to Marilla at all. She didn’t believe that she could whip a child. No. Some other method of punishment must be found. Anne must realize the enormity of her bad behavior.
Marilla found Anne face down on her bed, crying bitterly, and totally oblivious of her muddy boots still on her feet.
“Anne,” she said with a hint of gentleness in her voice.
“Anne,” more sharply, “get off that bed this minute and listen to what I have to say to you.”
Anne squirmed off the bed and sat up straight on the chair beside it. Her face was swollen and tear-stained, and her eyes were fixed stubbornly on the floor.
“This is a beautiful way for you to behave. Anne! Aren’t you ashamed of yourself?”
“She doesn’t have any right to call me ugly and redheaded,” retorted Anne, evasive and defiant.
“And you don’t have any right to fly into a fury and talk that way to her, Anne. I was ashamed of you. Absolutely ashamed. I wanted you to behave nicely to Mrs. Rachel, and instead you have disgraced me. I have no idea why you lost your temper like that just because Mrs. Rachel said you were red-haired and homely. You say it about yourself often enough.”
“Oh, but there’s a huge difference between saying something about yourself and hearing other people say it,” wailed Anne. “Even if you know it’s true, you can’t help but hope that other people don’t think so. I guess you think I have an awful temper, but I couldn’t help it. When she said those things, something just rose in me and choked me. I had to fly at her.”
“Well, you sure did put on a show! Mrs. Rachel will have a nice story to tell about you to everyone—and she will tell it, too. It was a dreadful thing for you to lose your temper like that, Anne.”
“Just imagine how you would feel if somebody told you to your face that you were skinny and ugly,” pleaded Anne tearfully.
An old memory suddenly came to Marilla’s mind. She had been a very small child when she had heard one of her aunts say to another, “What a pity that she is such a dark, homely little thing.” Even after all these years had passed, Marilla still felt a sting when she remembered those words.
“I don’t think that Mrs. Rachel was right to say those things to you, Anne,” she admitted in a softer tone. “Rachel is too outspoken. But that is no excuse for such behavior on your part. One, she was a stranger to you. Two, she is an elderly person. And three, she was my visitor. Three very good reasons why you should have been respectful to her. You were rude and saucy and—“ Marilla had a wave of inspiration for Anne’s punishment—“you must go to her and tell her you are very sorry for your bad temper and ask her to forgive you.”
“I can never do that,” said Anne with dark determination. “You can punish me in any way you like, Marilla. You can shut me up in a dark, damp dungeon filled with snakes and toads and feed me only bread and water and I won’t complain. But I can never ask Mrs. Rachel to forgive me.”
“Well, we don’t shut people up in dark, damp dungeons,” said Marilla drily, “especially since Avonlea doesn’t have any of those. But you will absolutely apologize to Mrs. Rachel. And you will stay here in your room until you can tell me that you’re willing to do it.”
“I’ll have to stay in her forever then,” said Anne, “because I can’t tell Mrs. Rachel I’m sorry I said those things to her. How can I? I’m not sorry. I’m sorry I’ve made you angry, but I’m glad I told her exactly what I did. It was very satisfying. I can’t say I’m sorry when I’m not, can I? That would be a lie. I can’t even imagine being sorry.”
“Maybe your imagination will be working better by the morning,” said Marilla, rising to leave. “You’ll have the night to think about your awful behavior. You said you would try to be a very good girl if we kept you at Green Gables, but it hasn’t seemed like it this evening.”
Leaving Anne with much to think about, Marilla went down to the kitchen. She felt so troubled in her mind and soul. She was as angry with herself as with Anne, because whenever she remembered Mrs. Rachel’s dumbfounded face, she wanted to laugh.
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.