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The Greatest Works of L. M. Montgomery

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Chapter V.
Anne’s History

Table of Contents

“Do you know,” said Anne confidentially, “I’ve made up my mind to enjoy this drive. It’s been my experience that you can nearly always enjoy things if you make up your mind firmly that you will. Of course, you must make it up FIRMLY. I am 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 imagination. Did you ever know of anybody whose hair was red when she was young, but got to be another color when she grew up?”

“No, I don’t know as I ever did,” said Marilla mercilessly, “and I shouldn’t think it likely to happen in your case either.”

Anne sighed.

“Well, that is another hope gone. ‘My life is a perfect graveyard of buried hopes.’ That’s a sentence I read in a book once, and I say it over to comfort myself whenever I’m disappointed in anything.”

“I don’t see where the comforting comes in myself,” said Marilla.

“Why, because it sounds so nice and romantic, just as if I were a heroine in a book, you know. I am so fond of romantic things, and a graveyard full of buried hopes is about as romantic a thing as one can imagine isn’t it? I’m rather 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 by your Lake of Shining Waters. 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 well as Avonlea. Avonlea is a lovely name. It just sounds like music. How far is it to White Sands?”

“It’s five miles; and as you’re evidently bent on talking you might as well talk to some purpose by telling me what you know about yourself.”

“Oh, what I KNOW about myself isn’t really worth telling,” said Anne eagerly. “If you’ll only let me tell you what I IMAGINE about myself you’ll think it ever so much more interesting.”

“No, I don’t want any of your imaginings. Just you stick to bald facts. Begin at the beginning. Where were you born and how old are you?”

“I was eleven last March,” said Anne, resigning herself to bald facts with a little sigh. “And I was born in Bolingbroke, Nova Scotia. My father’s name was Walter Shirley, and he was a teacher in the 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, say Jedediah, wouldn’t it?”

“I guess it doesn’t matter what a person’s name is as long as he behaves himself,” said Marilla, feeling herself called upon to inculcate a good and useful moral.

“Well, I don’t know.” Anne looked thoughtful. “I read in a book once that a rose by any other 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 a cross. Well, my mother was a teacher in the High school, too, but when she married father she gave up teaching, of course. A husband was enough responsibility. Mrs. Thomas said that they were a pair of babies and as poor as church mice. They went to live in a weeny-teeny little 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 over the parlor window and lilacs in the front yard and lilies of the valley just inside the gate. Yes, and muslin curtains in all the windows. Muslin curtains give a house such an air. I was born in that house. Mrs. Thomas said I was the homeliest baby she ever saw, I was so scrawny and tiny and nothing but eyes, but that mother thought I was perfectly beautiful. I should think a mother would be a better judge than a poor woman who came in to scrub, wouldn’t you? I’m glad she was satisfied with me anyhow, I would feel so sad if I thought I was a disappointment to her — because she didn’t live very long after that, you see. She died of fever when I was just three months old. I do wish she’d lived long enough for me to remember calling her mother. I think it would be so sweet to say ‘mother,’ don’t you? And father died four days afterwards from fever too. That left me an orphan and folks were at their wits’ end, so Mrs. Thomas said, what to do with me. You see, nobody wanted me even then. It seems to be my fate. Father and mother had both come from places far away and it was well known they hadn’t any relatives living. Finally Mrs. Thomas said she’d take me, though she was poor and had a drunken husband. She brought me up by hand. Do you know if there is anything in being brought up by hand that ought to make people who are brought up that way better than other people? Because whenever I was naughty Mrs. Thomas would ask me how I could be such a bad girl when she had brought me up by hand — reproachful-like.

“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 looking after. Then Mr. Thomas was killed falling under a train and his mother offered to take Mrs. Thomas and the children, but she didn’t want me. Mrs. Thomas was at HER wits’ end, so she said, what to do with me. Then Mrs. Hammond from up the river came down and said she’d take me, seeing I was handy with children, and I went up the river to live with her in a little clearing among the stumps. It was a very lonesome place. I’m sure I could never have lived there if I hadn’t had an imagination. Mr. Hammond worked 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 about.

“I lived up river with Mrs. Hammond over two years, and then Mr. Hammond died and Mrs. Hammond broke up housekeeping. 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 overcrowded as it was. But they had to take me and I was there four months until Mrs. Spencer came.”

Anne finished up with another 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 sorrel mare down the shore road.

“Not a great deal. I went a little the last year I stayed with Mrs. Thomas. When I went up river we were so far from a school that I couldn’t walk 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 ever so many pieces of poetry off by heart—’The Battle of Hohenlinden’ and ‘Edinburgh after Flodden,’ and ‘Bingen of the Rhine,’ and most of the ‘Lady of the Lake’ and most of ‘The Seasons’ by James Thompson. Don’t you just love poetry that gives you a crinkly feeling up and down your back? There is a piece in the Fifth Reader—’The Downfall of Poland’ — that is just full of thrills. Of course, I wasn’t in the Fifth Reader — I was only in the Fourth — but the big girls used to lend me theirs 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.

“O-o-o-h,” faltered Anne. Her sensitive little face suddenly flushed scarlet and embarrassment sat on her brow. “Oh, they MEANT to be — I know they meant to be just as good and kind as possible. And when people mean to be good to you, you don’t mind very much when they’re not quite — always. They had a good deal to worry them, you know. It’s very trying to have a drunken husband, you see; and it must be very trying to have twins three times in succession, don’t you think? But I feel sure they meant to be good to me.”

Marilla asked no more questions. Anne gave herself up to a silent rapture over the shore road and Marilla guided the sorrel abstractedly while she pondered deeply. Pity was suddenly stirring in her heart for the child. What a starved, unloved life she had had — a life of drudgery and poverty and neglect; for Marilla was shrewd enough to read between the lines of Anne’s history and divine the truth. No wonder she had been so delighted at the prospect of a real home. It was a pity she had to be sent back. What if she, Marilla, should indulge Matthew’s unaccountable whim and let her stay? He was set on it; and the child seemed a nice, teachable little thing.

“She’s got too much to say,” thought Marilla, “but she might be trained out of that. And there’s nothing rude or slangy in what she does say. She’s ladylike. It’s likely her people were nice folks.”

The shore road was “woodsy and wild and lonesome.” On the right hand, scrub firs, their spirits quite unbroken by long years of tussle with the gulf winds, grew thickly. On the left were the steep red sandstone cliffs, so near the track in places that a mare of less steadiness than the sorrel might have tried the nerves of the people behind her. Down at the base of the cliffs were heaps of surf-worn rocks or little sandy coves inlaid with pebbles as with ocean jewels; beyond lay the sea, shimmering and blue, and over it soared the gulls, their pinions flashing silvery in the sunlight.

 

“Isn’t the sea wonderful?” said Anne, rousing from a long, wide-eyed silence. “Once, when I lived in Marysville, Mr. Thomas hired an express wagon 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 all the time. I lived it over in happy dreams for years. But this shore is nicer than the Marysville shore. Aren’t those gulls splendid? Would you like to be a gull? I think I would — 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 away out over that lovely blue all day; and then at night to fly back to one’s nest? Oh, I can just imagine myself doing it. What big house is that just ahead, please?”

“That’s the White Sands Hotel. Mr. Kirke runs it, but the season hasn’t begun yet. There are heaps of Americans come there for the summer. They think this shore is just about right.”

“I was afraid it might be Mrs. Spencer’s place,” said Anne mournfully. “I don’t want to get there. Somehow, it will seem like the end of everything.”

Chapter VI.
Marilla Makes Up Her Mind

Table of Contents

Get there they did, however, in due season. Mrs. Spencer lived in a big yellow house at White Sands Cove, and she came to the door with surprise and welcome mingled on her benevolent face.

“Dear, dear,” she exclaimed, “you’re the last folks I was looking for today, but I’m real glad to see you. You’ll put your horse in? And how are you, Anne?”

“I’m as well as can be expected, thank you,” said Anne smilelessly. A blight seemed to have descended on her.

“I suppose we’ll stay a little while to rest the mare,” said Marilla, “but I promised Matthew I’d be home early. The fact is, Mrs. Spencer, there’s been a queer mistake somewhere, and I’ve come over to see where it is. We send word, Matthew and I, for you to bring us a boy from the asylum. We told your brother Robert to tell you we wanted a boy ten or eleven years old.”

“Marilla Cuthbert, you don’t say so!” said Mrs. Spencer in distress. “Why, Robert sent word down by his daughter Nancy and she said you wanted a girl — didn’t she Flora Jane?” appealing to her daughter who had come out to the steps.

“She certainly did, Miss Cuthbert,” corroborated Flora Jane earnestly.

“I’m dreadful sorry,” said Mrs. Spencer. “It’s too bad; but it certainly wasn’t my fault, you see, Miss Cuthbert. I did the best I could and I thought I was following your instructions. Nancy is a terrible flighty thing. I’ve often had to scold her well for her heedlessness.”

“It was our own fault,” said Marilla resignedly. “We should have come to you ourselves and not left an important message to be passed along by word of mouth in that fashion. Anyhow, the mistake has been made and the only thing to do is to set it right. Can we send the child back to the asylum? I suppose they’ll take her back, won’t they?”

“I suppose so,” said Mrs. Spencer thoughtfully, “but I don’t think it will be necessary to send her back. Mrs. Peter Blewett was up here yesterday, and she was saying to me how much she wished she’d sent by me for a little girl to help her. Mrs. Peter has a large family, you know, and she finds it hard to get help. Anne will be the very girl for you. I call it positively providential.”

Marilla did not look as if she thought Providence had much to do with the matter. Here was an unexpectedly good chance to get this unwelcome orphan off her hands, and she did not even feel grateful for it.

She knew Mrs. Peter Blewett only by sight as a small, shrewish-faced woman without an ounce of superfluous flesh on her bones. But she had heard of her. “A terrible worker and driver,” Mrs. Peter was said to be; and discharged servant girls told fearsome tales of her temper and stinginess, and her family of pert, quarrelsome children. Marilla felt a qualm of conscience at the thought of handing Anne over to her tender mercies.

“Well, I’ll go in and we’ll talk the matter over,” she said.

“And if there isn’t Mrs. Peter coming up the lane this blessed minute!” exclaimed Mrs. Spencer, bustling her guests through the hall into the parlor, where a deadly chill struck on them as if the air had been strained so long through dark green, closely drawn blinds that it had lost every particle of warmth it had ever possessed. “That is real lucky, for we can settle the matter right away. Take the armchair, Miss Cuthbert. Anne, you sit here on the ottoman and don’t wiggle. Let me take your hats. Flora Jane, go out and put the kettle on. Good afternoon, Mrs. Blewett. We were just saying how fortunate it was you happened along. Let me introduce you two ladies. Mrs. Blewett, Miss Cuthbert. Please excuse me for just a moment. I forgot to tell Flora Jane to take the buns out of the oven.”

Mrs. Spencer whisked away, after pulling up the blinds. Anne sitting mutely on the ottoman, with her hands clasped tightly in her lap, stared at Mrs Blewett as one fascinated. Was she to be given into the keeping of this sharp-faced, sharp-eyed woman? She felt a lump coming up in her throat and her eyes smarted painfully. She was beginning to be afraid she couldn’t keep the tears back when Mrs. Spencer returned, flushed and beaming, quite capable of taking any and every difficulty, physical, mental or spiritual, into consideration and settling it out of hand.

“It seems there’s been a mistake about this little girl, Mrs. Blewett,” she said. “I was under the impression that Mr. and Miss Cuthbert wanted a little girl to adopt. I was certainly told so. But it seems it was a boy they wanted. So if you’re still of the same mind you were yesterday, I think she’ll be just the thing for you.”

Mrs. Blewett darted her eyes over Anne from head to foot.

“How old are you and what’s your name?” she demanded.

“Anne Shirley,” faltered the shrinking child, not daring to make any stipulations regarding the spelling thereof, “and I’m eleven years old.”

“Humph! You don’t look as if there was much to you. But you’re wiry. I don’t know but the wiry ones are the best after all. Well, if I take you you’ll have to be a good girl, you know — good and smart and respectful. I’ll expect you to earn your keep, and no mistake about that. Yes, I suppose I might as well take her off your hands, Miss Cuthbert. The baby’s awful fractious, and I’m clean worn out attending to him. If you like I can take her right home now.”

Marilla looked at Anne and softened at sight of the child’s pale face with its look of mute misery — the misery of a helpless little creature who finds itself once more caught in the trap from which it had escaped. Marilla felt an uncomfortable conviction that, if she denied the appeal of that look, it would haunt her to her dying day. Moreover, she did not fancy Mrs. Blewett. To hand a sensitive, “highstrung” child over to such a woman! No, she could not take the responsibility of doing that!

“Well, I don’t know,” she said slowly. “I didn’t say that Matthew and I had absolutely decided that we wouldn’t keep her. In fact I may say that Matthew is disposed to keep her. I just came over to find out how the mistake had occurred. I think I’d better take her home again and talk it over with Matthew. I feel that I oughtn’t to decide on anything without consulting him. If we make up our mind not to keep her we’ll bring or send her over to you tomorrow night. If we don’t you may know that she is going to stay with us. Will that suit you, Mrs. Blewett?”

“I suppose it’ll have to,” said Mrs. Blewett ungraciously.

During Marilla’s speech a sunrise had been dawning on Anne’s face. First the look of despair faded out; then came a faint flush of hope; her eyes grew deep and bright as morning stars. The child was quite transfigured; and, a moment later, when Mrs. Spencer and Mrs. Blewett went out in quest of a recipe the latter had come to borrow she sprang up and flew across the room to Marilla.

“Oh, Miss Cuthbert, did you really say that perhaps you would let me stay at Green Gables?” she said, in a breathless whisper, as if speaking aloud might shatter the glorious possibility. “Did you really say it? Or did I only imagine that you did?”

“I think you’d better learn to control that imagination of yours, Anne, if you can’t distinguish between what is real and what isn’t,” said Marilla crossly. “Yes, you did hear me say just that and no more. It isn’t decided yet and perhaps we will conclude to let Mrs. Blewett take you after all. She certainly needs you much more than I do.”

“I’d rather go back to the asylum than go to live with her,” said Anne passionately. “She looks exactly like a — like a gimlet.”

Marilla smothered a smile under the conviction that Anne must be reproved for such a speech.

“A little girl like you should be ashamed of talking so about a lady and a stranger,” she said severely. “Go back and sit down quietly and hold your tongue and behave as a good girl should.”

“I’ll try to do and be anything you want me, if you’ll only keep me,” said Anne, returning meekly to her ottoman.

When they arrived back at Green Gables that evening Matthew met them in the lane. Marilla from afar had noted him prowling along it and guessed his motive. She was prepared for the relief she read in his face when he saw that she had at least brought back Anne back with her. But she said nothing, to him, relative to the affair, until they were both out in the yard behind the barn milking the cows. Then she briefly told him Anne’s history and the result of the interview with Mrs. Spencer.

“I wouldn’t give a dog I liked to that Blewett woman,” said Matthew with unusual vim.

“I don’t fancy her style myself,” admitted Marilla, “but it’s that or keeping her ourselves, Matthew. And since you seem to want her, I suppose I’m willing — or have to be. I’ve been thinking over the idea until I’ve got kind of used to it. It seems a sort of duty. I’ve never brought up a child, especially a girl, and I dare say I’ll make a terrible mess of it. But I’ll do my best. So far as I’m concerned, Matthew, she may stay.”

Matthew’s shy face was a glow of delight.

“Well now, I reckoned you’d come to see it in that light, Marilla,” he said. “She’s such an interesting little thing.”

“It’d be more to the point if you could say she was a useful little thing,” retorted Marilla, “but I’ll make it my business to see she’s trained to be that. And mind, Matthew, you’re not to go interfering with my methods. Perhaps an old maid doesn’t know much about bringing up a child, but I guess she knows more than an old bachelor. So you just leave me to manage her. When I fail it’ll be time enough to put your oar in.”

“There, there, Marilla, you can have your own way,” said Matthew reassuringly. “Only be as good and kind to her as you can without spoiling her. I kind of think she’s one of the sort you can do anything with if you only get her to love you.”

Marilla sniffed, to express her contempt for Matthew’s opinions concerning anything feminine, and walked off to the dairy with the pails.

“I won’t tell her tonight that she can stay,” she reflected, as she strained the milk into the creamers. “She’d be so excited that she wouldn’t sleep a wink. Marilla Cuthbert, you’re fairly in for it. Did you ever suppose you’d see the day when you’d be adopting an orphan girl? It’s surprising enough; but not so surprising as that Matthew should be at the bottom of it, him that always seemed to have such a mortal dread of little girls. Anyhow, we’ve decided on the experiment and goodness only knows what will come of it.”