One evening at sunset, Jane Andrews, Gilbert Blythe, and Anne Shirley were lingering by a fence in the shadow of gently swaying spruce boughs, where a wood cut known as the Birch Path joined the main road. Jane had been up to spend the afternoon with Anne, who walked part of the way home with her; at the fence they met Gilbert, and all three were now talking about the fateful morrow; for that morrow was the first of September and the schools would open. Jane would go to Newbridge and Gilbert to White Sands.
“You both have the advantage of me,” sighed Anne. “You’re going to teach children who don’t know you, but I have to teach my own old schoolmates, and Mrs. Lynde says she’s afraid they won’t respect me as they would a stranger unless I’m very cross from the first. But I don’t believe a teacher should be cross. Oh, it seems to me such a responsibility!”
“I guess we’ll get on all right,” said Jane comfortably. Jane was not troubled by any aspirations to be an influence for good. She meant to earn her salary fairly, please the trustees, and get her name on the School Inspector’s roll of honor. Further ambitions Jane had none. “The main thing will be to keep order and a teacher has to be a little cross to do that. If my pupils won’t do as I tell them I shall punish them.”
“Give them a good whipping, of course.”
“Oh, Jane, you wouldn’t,” cried Anne, shocked. “Jane, you COULDN’T!”
“Indeed, I could and would, if they deserved it,” said Jane decidedly.
“I could NEVER whip a child,” said Anne with equal decision. “I don’t believe in it AT ALL. Miss Stacy never whipped any of us and she had perfect order; and Mr. Phillips was always whipping and he had no order at all. No, if I can’t get along without whipping I shall not try to teach school. There are better ways of managing. I shall try to win my pupils’ affections and then they will WANT to do what I tell them.”
“But suppose they don’t?” said practical Jane.
“I wouldn’t whip them anyhow. I’m sure it wouldn’t do any good. Oh, don’t whip your pupils, Jane dear, no matter what they do.”
“What do you think about it, Gilbert?” demanded Jane. “Don’t you think there are some children who really need a whipping now and then?”
“Don’t you think it’s a cruel, barbarous thing to whip a child… ANY child?” exclaimed Anne, her face flushing with earnestness.
“Well,” said Gilbert slowly, torn between his real convictions and his wish to measure up to Anne’s ideal, “there’s something to be said on both sides. I don’t believe in whipping children MUCH. I think, as you say, Anne, that there are better ways of managing as a rule, and that corporal punishment should be a last resort. But on the other hand, as Jane says, I believe there is an occasional child who can’t be influenced in any other way and who, in short, needs a whipping and would be improved by it. Corporal punishment as a last resort is to be my rule.”
Gilbert, having tried to please both sides, succeeded, as is usual and eminently right, in pleasing neither. Jane tossed her head.
“I’ll whip my pupils when they’re naughty. It’s the shortest and easiest way of convincing them.”
Anne gave Gilbert a disappointed glance.
“I shall never whip a child,” she repeated firmly. “I feel sure it isn’t either right or necessary.”
“Suppose a boy sauced you back when you told him to do something?” said Jane.
“I’d keep him in after school and talk kindly and firmly to him,” said Anne. “There is some good in every person if you can find it. It is a teacher’s duty to find and develop it. That is what our School Management professor at Queen’s told us, you know. Do you suppose you could find any good in a child by whipping him? It’s far more important to influence the children aright than it is even to teach them the three Rs, Professor Rennie says.”
“But the Inspector examines them in the three R’s, mind you, and he won’t give you a good report if they don’t come up to his standard,” protested Jane.
“I’d rather have my pupils love me and look back to me in after years as a real helper than be on the roll of honor,” asserted Anne decidedly.
“Wouldn’t you punish children at all, when they misbehaved?” asked Gilbert.
“Oh, yes, I suppose I shall have to, although I know I’ll hate to do it. But you can keep them in at recess or stand them on the floor or give them lines to write.”
“I suppose you won’t punish the girls by making them sit with the boys?” said Jane slyly.
Gilbert and Anne looked at each other and smiled rather foolishly. Once upon a time, Anne had been made to sit with Gilbert for punishment and sad and bitter had been the consequences thereof.
“Well, time will tell which is the best way,” said Jane philosophically as they parted.
Anne went back to Green Gables by way of Birch Path, shadowy, rustling, fern-scented, through Violet Vale and past Willowmere, where dark and light kissed each other under the firs, and down through Lover’s Lane… spots she and Diana had so named long ago. She walked slowly, enjoying the sweetness of wood and field and the starry summer twilight, and thinking soberly about the new duties she was to take up on the morrow. When she reached the yard at Green Gables Mrs. Lynde’s loud, decided tones floated out through the open kitchen window.
“Mrs. Lynde has come up to give me good advice about tomorrow,” thought Anne with a grimace, “but I don’t believe I’ll go in. Her advice is much like pepper, I think… excellent in small quantities but rather scorching in her doses. I’ll run over and have a chat with Mr. Harrison instead.”
This was not the first time Anne had run over and chatted with Mr. Harrison since the notable affair of the Jersey cow. She had been there several evenings and Mr. Harrison and she were very good friends, although there were times and seasons when Anne found the outspokenness on which he prided himself rather trying. Ginger still continued to regard her with suspicion, and never failed to greet her sarcastically as “redheaded snippet.” Mr. Harrison had tried vainly to break him of the habit by jumping excitedly up whenever he saw Anne coming and exclaiming,
“Bless my soul, here’s that pretty little girl again,” or something equally flattering. But Ginger saw through the scheme and scorned it. Anne was never to know how many compliments Mr. Harrison paid her behind her back. He certainly never paid her any to her face.
“Well, I suppose you’ve been back in the woods laying in a supply of switches for tomorrow?” was his greeting as Anne came up the veranda steps.
“No, indeed,” said Anne indignantly. She was an excellent target for teasing because she always took things so seriously. “I shall never have a switch in my school, Mr. Harrison. Of course, I shall have to have a pointer, but I shall use it for pointing ONLY.”
“So you mean to strap them instead? Well, I don’t know but you’re right. A switch stings more at the time but the strap smarts longer, that’s a fact.”
“I shall not use anything of the sort. I’m not going to whip my pupils.”
“Bless my soul,” exclaimed Mr. Harrison in genuine astonishment, “how do you lay out to keep order then?”
“I shall govern by affection, Mr. Harrison.”
“It won’t do,” said Mr. Harrison, “won’t do at all, Anne. ‘Spare the rod and spoil the child.’ When I went to school the master whipped me regular every day because he said if I wasn’t in mischief just then I was plotting it.”
“Methods have changed since your schooldays, Mr. Harrison.”
“But human nature hasn’t. Mark my words, you’ll never manage the young fry unless you keep a rod in pickle for them. The thing is impossible.”
“Well, I’m going to try my way first,” said Anne, who had a fairly strong will of her own and was apt to cling very tenaciously to her theories.
“You’re pretty stubborn, I reckon,” was Mr. Harrison’s way of putting it. “Well, well, we’ll see. Someday when you get riled up… and people with hair like yours are desperate apt to get riled… you’ll forget all your pretty little notions and give some of them a whaling. You’re too young to be teaching anyhow… far too young and childish.”
Altogether, Anne went to bed that night in a rather pessimistic mood. She slept poorly and was so pale and tragic at breakfast next morning that Marilla was alarmed and insisted on making her take a cup of scorching ginger tea. Anne sipped it patiently, although she could not imagine what good ginger tea would do. Had it been some magic brew, potent to confer age and experience, Anne would have swallowed a quart of it without flinching.
“Marilla, what if I fail!”
“You’ll hardly fail completely in one day and there’s plenty more days coming,” said Marilla. “The trouble with you, Anne, is that you’ll expect to teach those children everything and reform all their faults right off, and if you can’t you’ll think you’ve failed.”
When Anne reached the school that morning… for the first time in her life she had traversed the Birch Path deaf and blind to its beauties… all was quiet and still. The preceding teacher had trained the children to be in their places at her arrival, and when Anne entered the schoolroom she was confronted by prim rows of “shining morning faces” and bright, inquisitive eyes. She hung up her hat and faced her pupils, hoping that she did not look as frightened and foolish as she felt and that they would not perceive how she was trembling.
She had sat up until nearly twelve the preceding night composing a speech she meant to make to her pupils upon opening the school. She had revised and improved it painstakingly, and then she had learned it off by heart. It was a very good speech and had some very fine ideas in it, especially about mutual help and earnest striving after knowledge. The only trouble was that she could not now remember a word of it.
After what seemed to her a year… about ten seconds in reality… she said faintly, “Take your Testaments, please,” and sank breathlessly into her chair under cover of the rustle and clatter of desk lids that followed. While the children read their verses Anne marshalled her shaky wits into order and looked over the array of little pilgrims to the Grownup Land.
Most of them were, of course, quite well known to her. Her own classmates had passed out in the preceding year but the rest had all gone to school with her, excepting the primer class and ten newcomers to Avonlea. Anne secretly felt more interest in these ten than in those whose possibilities were already fairly well mapped out to her. To be sure, they might be just as commonplace as the rest; but on the other hand there MIGHT be a genius among them. It was a thrilling idea.
Sitting by himself at a corner desk was Anthony Pye. He had a dark, sullen little face, and was staring at Anne with a hostile expression in his black eyes. Anne instantly made up her mind that she would win that boy’s affection and discomfit the Pyes utterly.
In the other corner another strange boy was sitting with Arty Sloane. . . a jolly looking little chap, with a snub nose, freckled face, and big, light blue eyes, fringed with whitish lashes… probably the DonNELL boy; and if resemblance went for anything, his sister was sitting across the aisle with Mary Bell. Anne wondered what sort of mother the child had, to send her to school dressed as she was. She wore a faded pink silk dress, trimmed with a great deal of cotton lace, soiled white kid slippers, and silk stockings. Her sandy hair was tortured into innumerable kinky and unnatural curls, surmounted by a flamboyant bow of pink ribbon bigger than her head. Judging from her expression she was very well satisfied with herself.
A pale little thing, with smooth ripples of fine, silky, fawn-colored hair flowing over her shoulders, must, Anne thought, be Annetta Bell, whose parents had formerly lived in the Newbridge school district, but, by reason of hauling their house fifty yards north of its old site were now in Avonlea. Three pallid little girls crowded into one seat were certainly Cottons; and there was no doubt that the small beauty with the long brown curls and hazel eyes, who was casting coquettish looks at Jack Gills over the edge of her Testament, was Prillie Rogerson, whose father had recently married a second wife and brought Prillie home from her grandmother’s in Grafton. A tall, awkward girl in a back seat, who seemed to have too many feet and hands, Anne could not place at all, but later on discovered that her name was Barbara Shaw and that she had come to live with an Avonlea aunt. She was also to find that if Barbara ever managed to walk down the aisle without falling over her own or somebody else’s feet the Avonlea scholars wrote the unusual fact up on the porch wall to commemorate it.
But when Anne’s eyes met those of the boy at the front desk facing her own, a queer little thrill went over her, as if she had found her genius. She knew this must be Paul Irving and that Mrs. Rachel Lynde had been right for once when she prophesied that he would be unlike the Avonlea children. More than that, Anne realized that he was unlike other children anywhere, and that there was a soul subtly akin to her own gazing at her out of the very dark blue eyes that were watching her so intently.
She knew Paul was ten but he looked no more than eight. He had the most beautiful little face she had ever seen in a child… features of exquisite delicacy and re- finement, framed in a halo of chestnut curls. His mouth was delicious, being full without pouting, the crimson lips just softly touching and curving into finely finished little corners that narrowly escaped being dimpled. He had a sober, grave, meditative expression, as if his spirit was much older than his body; but when Anne smiled softly at him it vanished in a sudden answering smile, which seemed an illumination of his whole being, as if some lamp had suddenly kindled into flame inside of him, irradiating him from top to toe. Best of all, it was involuntary, born of no external effort or motive, but simply the outflashing of a hidden personality, rare and fine and sweet. With a quick interchange of smiles Anne and Paul were fast friends forever before a word had passed between them.
The day went by like a dream. Anne could never clearly recall it afterwards. It almost seemed as if it were not she who was teaching but somebody else. She heard classes and worked sums and set copies mechanically. The children behaved quite well; only two cases of discipline occurred. Morley Andrews was caught driving a pair of trained crickets in the aisle. Anne stood Morley on the platform for an hour and… which Morley felt much more keenly… confiscated his crickets. She put them in a box and on the way from school set them free in Violet Vale; but Morley believed, then and ever afterwards, that she took them home and kept them for her own amusement.
The other culprit was Anthony Pye, who poured the last drops of water from his slate bottle down the back of Aurelia Clay’s neck. Anne kept Anthony in at recess and talked to him about what was expected of gentlemen, admonishing him that they never poured water down ladies’ necks. She wanted all her boys to be gentlemen, she said. Her little lecture was quite kind and touching; but unfortunately Anthony remained absolutely untouched. He listened to her in silence, with the same sullen expression, and whistled scornfully as he went out. Anne sighed; and then cheered herself up by remembering that winning a Pye’s affections, like the building of Rome, wasn’t the work of a day. In fact, it was doubtful whether some of the Pyes had any affections to win; but Anne hoped better things of Anthony, who looked as if he might be a rather nice boy if one ever got behind his sullenness.
When school was dismissed and the children had gone Anne dropped wearily into her chair. Her head ached and she felt woefully discouraged. There was no real reason for discouragement, since nothing very dreadful had occurred; but Anne was very tired and inclined to believe that she would never learn to like teaching. And how terrible it would be to be doing something you didn’t like every day for… well, say forty years. Anne was of two minds whether to have her cry out then and there, or wait till she was safely in her own white room at home. Before she could decide there was a click of heels and a silken swish on the porch floor, and Anne found herself confronted by a lady whose appearance made her recall a recent criticism of Mr. Harrison’s on an overdressed female he had seen in a Charlottetown store. “She looked like a head-on collision between a fashion plate and a nightmare.”
The newcomer was gorgeously arrayed in a pale blue summer silk, puffed, frilled, and shirred wherever puff, frill, or shirring could possibly be placed. Her head was surmounted by a huge white chiffon hat, bedecked with three long but rather stringy ostrich feathers. A veil of pink chiffon, lavishly sprinkled with huge black dots, hung like a flounce from the hat brim to her shoulders and floated off in two airy streamers behind her. She wore all the jewelry that could be crowded on one small woman, and a very strong odor of perfume attended her.
“I am Mrs. DonNELL… Mrs. H. B. DonNELL,” announced this vision, “and I have come in to see you about something Clarice Almira told me when she came home to dinner today. It annoyed me EXCESSIVELY.”
“I’m sorry,” faltered Anne, vainly trying to recollect any incident of the morning connected with the Donnell children.
“Clarice Almira told me that you pronounced our name DONnell. Now, Miss Shirley, the correct pronunciation of our name is DonNELL… accent on the last syllable. I hope you’ll remember this in future.”
“I’ll try to,” gasped Anne, choking back a wild desire to laugh. “I know by experience that it’s very unpleasant to have one’s name SPELLED wrong and I suppose it must be even worse to have it pronounced wrong.”
“Certainly it is. And Clarice Almira also informed me that you call my son Jacob.”
“He told me his name was Jacob,” protested Anne.
“I might well have expected that,” said Mrs. H. B. Donnell, in a tone which implied that gratitude in children was not to be looked for in this degenerate age. “That boy has such plebeian tastes, Miss Shirley. When he was born I wanted to call him St. Clair… it sounds SO aristocratic, doesn’t it? But his father insisted he should be called Jacob after his uncle. I yielded, because Uncle Jacob was a rich old bachelor. And what do you think, Miss Shirley? When our innocent boy was five years old Uncle Jacob actually went and got married and now he has three boys of his own. Did you ever hear of such ingratitude? The moment the invitation to the wedding… for he had the impertinence to send us an invitation, Miss Shirley… came to the house I said, ‘No more Jacobs for me, thank you.’ From that day I called my son St. Clair and St. Clair I am determined he shall be called. His father obstinately continues to call him Jacob, and the boy himself has a perfectly unaccountable preference for the vulgar name. But St. Clair he is and St. Clair he shall remain. You will kindly remember this, Miss Shirley, will you not? THANK you. I told Clarice Almira that I was sure it was only a misunderstanding and that a word would set it right. Donnell. . . accent on the last syllable… and St. Clair… on no account Jacob. You’ll remember? THANK you.”
When Mrs. H. B. DonNELL had skimmed away Anne locked the school door and went home. At the foot of the hill she found Paul Irving by the Birch Path. He held out to her a cluster of the dainty little wild orchids which Avonlea children called “rice lillies.”
“Please, teacher, I found these in Mr. Wright’s field,” he said shyly, “and I came back to give them to you because I thought you were the kind of lady that would like them, and because…” he lifted his big beautiful eyes… “I like you, teacher.”
“You darling,” said Anne, taking the fragrant spikes. As if Paul’s words had been a spell of magic, discouragement and weariness passed from her spirit, and hope upwelled in her heart like a dancing fountain. She went through the Birch Path light-footedly, attended by the sweetness of her orchids as by a benediction.
“Well, how did you get along?” Marilla wanted to know.
“Ask me that a month later and I may be able to tell you. I can’t now… I don’t know myself… I’m too near it. My thoughts feel as if they had been all stirred up until they were thick and muddy. The only thing I feel really sure of having accomplished today is that I taught Cliffie Wright that A is A. He never knew it before. Isn’t it something to have started a soul along a path that may end in Shakespeare and Paradise Lost?”
Mrs. Lynde came up later on with more encouragement. That good lady had waylaid the schoolchildren at her gate and demanded of them how they liked their new teacher.
“And every one of them said they liked you splendid, Anne, except Anthony Pye. I must admit he didn’t. He said you ‘weren’t any good, just like all girl teachers.’ There’s the Pye leaven for you. But never mind.”
“I’m not going to mind,” said Anne quietly, “and I’m going to make Anthony Pye like me yet. Patience and kindness will surely win him.”
“Well, you can never tell about a Pye,” said Mrs. Rachel cautiously. “They go by contraries, like dreams, often as not. As for that DonNELL woman, she’ll get no DonNELLing from me, I can assure you. The name is DONnell and always has been. The woman is crazy, that’s what. She has a pug dog she calls Queenie and it has its meals at the table along with the family, eating off a china plate. I’d be afraid of a judgment if I was her. Thomas says Donnell himself is a sensible, hard-working man, but he hadn’t much gumption when he picked out a wife, that’s what.”