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 1 – Mrs. Rachel Lynde is Surprised
Mrs. Rachel Lynde lived in a little hollow at the bottom of the Avenlea main road. In front of her house, there were alder trees and beautiful pink flowers called “ladies’ eardrops.” There was also a brook. This brook’s upper course started in the distant woods, where the flow of the water was strong and powerful. But by the time it reached Lynde’s hollow, it was a quiet, well-mannered little stream because not even a brook could run past Mrs. Rachel Lynde’s door without being well behaved. Mrs. Rachel was always sitting at her window, keeping a sharp eye on everything that passed. From brooks to children, she noticed everything. If anything was odd or out of place, she would never rest until she fully investigated it.
There are plenty of people in Avonlea (and outside of it) who can stick their nose into their neighbor’s lives. In doing so, they end up neglecting their own lives. But Mrs. Rachel Lynne was one of the few capable people who could take care of their own business as well as the business of others. She was a notable housewife. She always finished her work and finished it well. She ran the Sewing Circle, helped run the church’s Sunday school, and was the most active member of the Church Aid Society and Foreign Missions Auxiliary. Yet even with all this, Mrs. Rachel found abundant time to sit for hours at her kitchen window, knitting quilts (she had knitted sixteen so far) while keeping a sharp eye on the main road that crossed the hollow and wound up the steep red hill. Since Avonlea occupied a little triangular peninsula which jutted out into the Gulf of St. Lawrence, it was almost completely surrounded by water. To go in or out of Avonlea, there was only one path: that hill road. That’s why Mrs. Rachel had an all-seeing eye.
One afternoon in early June, she was sitting in her kitchen. The bright, warm sunshine came through the window. Outside, the orchard on the slope below the house was blooming pink and white flowers, and the bees hummed around. Thomas Lynde (a shy, little man that everyone called “Rachel’s Lynde’s husband”) was planting turnip seeds on the hill beyond the barn. And Matthew Cuthbert was supposed to have been planting his seeds, too, on the big red brook field near Green Gables.
Mrs. Rachel knew that Matthew Cuthbert was supposed to be doing that because of a conversation she had overheard. Yesterday evening in the store at Carmody, she heard him tell Peter Morrison that he would plant his turnip seeds the next afternoon. Peter had asked him directly, of course, because Matthew Cuthbert never volunteers information about anything.
And yet, here was Matthew Cuthbert, at 3:30 pm on a busy day, driving leisurely over the hollow and up the hill. Moreover, he wore a white collar and his best clothes. This was plain proof that he was going out of Avonlea. He was driving a strong horse and carriage, which showed that he expected a long journey. Now, where was Matthew Cuthbert going and why was he going there?
If it was any other man in Avonlea, Mrs. Rachel might have been able to guess where and why. However, Matthew left his home so rarely that this errand must be urgent and unusual. He was the shyest man alive and hated being around strangers or going to social events. Matthew, dressed up in a white collar and driving a carriage, was something that didn’t happen often.
Mrs. Rachel, as much as she pondered, couldn’t figure out why. This spoiled her afternoon.
“I’ll just step over to Green Gables after tea and find out from Marilla where he’s gone and why,” Mrs. Rachel finally concluded. “He doesn’t generally go to town this time of the year and he never visits. If he had run out of turnip seeds, he wouldn’t dress up and take the carriage. He wasn’t driving fast enough to be going to a doctor. Yet something must have happened since last night to change his plans for today. I’m completely puzzled. I won’t get any peace of mind until I figure out where Matthew Cuthbert has gone.”
And so, after tea, Mrs. Rachel set out. She didn’t have to go far because the big, rambling orchard house where the Cuthbert lived was only a quarter of a mile up the road from Lynde’s Hollow. To be sure, the long lane leading up to their house was purposefully long. Matthew Cuthbert’s father, just as silent and shy as his son, had wanted to live as far away as he possibly could from the town without actually retreating into the forest. Green Gables was built on the furthest edge of his cleared land. It was barely visible from the main road along which all the other Avonlea houses were built. Mrs. Rachel Lynne thought living in such a place wasn’t living at all.
“It’s just staying,” she said as she stepped along the grassy lane that was bordered by wild rose bushes. “It’s no wonder Matthew and Marilee are both a little odd, living back here by themselves. Trees can’t be your friends. I’d rather look out my window at people. Surely, they seem happy enough, but then, I suppose, they are used to living like that.”
Finally, Mrs. Rachel reached the backyard of Green Gables. The yard was very green and neat and precise. On one side, there were great willow trees, and on the other side were tall prim trees. There wasn’t a stray stick or stone to be seen. And of course, Mrs. Rachel would have noticed if there had been. Privately, she thought that Marilla Cuthbert swept her yard too often – probably as often as she swept inside the house. The yard was so clean that you could eat a meal off the ground without getting any dirt on your food.
Mrs. Rachel knocked quickly at the door and stepped inside when she heard Marilla’s call. The kitchen at Green Gables was cheerful – or it would have been cheerful if it hadn’t been so painfully clean, like a doll house that nobody lived in. Its windows faced east and west. The west one showed the backyard, bathed in June sunlight. But the east one, which showed white cherry blossoms and slender birch trees down by the brook, was covered by vines. It was a dark window, and Marilla Cuthbert sat there. She was distrustful of sunshine, which seemed too playful and irresponsible. Marilla preferred a world that was serious. She sat there now, knitting, and the table behind her was already set for dinner.
Mrs. Rachel, before she had even closed the door, had taken a mental note of everything that was on that table. There were three plates laid out. Marilla must be expecting someone to come home with Matthew for tea, but the dishes were everyday dishes and there was only apple jam and a small cake. That must mean that the expected company isn’t anyone special. Yet, why was Matthew wearing a white collar and driving a nice horse? Mrs. Rachel was getting dizzy with this unusual mystery.
“Good evening, Rachel,” Marilla said briskly. “This is a fine evening, isn’t it? Won’t you sit down? How’s your family?”
For lack of a better word, Marilla Cuthbert and Mrs. Rachel had a “friendship,” in spite of—or perhaps because of—their dissimilarity.
Marilla was a tall, thin woman, with angles and without curves. Her dark hair had gray streaks and was always twisted up in a hard, little knot with two wire hairpins stuck aggressively through it. She looked like a woman of narrow experience and rigid conscience, which she was; but there was something pleasant about her mouth which seemed to be hiding a sense of humor behind it.
“We’re all pretty well,” said Mrs. Rachel. “I was kind of worried about your family, though, when I saw Matthew leaving town today. I thought maybe he was going to the doctor.”
Marilla’s lips twitched understandingly. She had expected Mrs. Rachel to come; she had known that the sight of Matthew driving off without an explanation would be too much for her neighbor’s curiosity.
“Oh, no, I’m quite well, although I had a bad headache yesterday,” she said. “Matthew went to Bright River. We’re getting a little boy from an orphan asylum in Nova Scotia and he’s coming on the train tonight.”
If Marilla had said that Matthew had gone to Bright River to meet a kangaroo from Australia, Mrs. Rachel could not have been more astonished. She was actually stricken speechless for five seconds. It was unimaginable that Marilla was making some kind of joke, but Mrs. Rachel was almost forced to suppose so.
“Are you being serious, Marilla?” she demanded when her voice returned.
“Yes, of course,” said Marilla, as if getting boys from orphan asylums in Nova Scotia were part of the usual spring work on any well-regulated Avonlea farm.
Mrs. Rachel felt that she had received a severe mental jolt. Her thoughts were all in exclamation points. A boy! Marilla and Matthew Cuthbert adopting a boy! The Cuthberts of all people! From an orphan asylum! The world was turning upside down! Nothing could surprise her after this! Nothing!
“What on earth put such an idea into your head?” Mrs. Rachel demanded disapprovingly. (This had been done without her advice being asked. Therefore, she should show her disapproval.)
“Well, we’ve been thinking about it for some time—all winter in fact,” returned Marilla. “Mrs. Alexander Spencer was up here one day before Christmas and she said she was going to get a little girl from the asylum over in Hopeton in the spring. Her cousin lives there and Mrs. Spencer has visited here and knows all about it. So Matthew and I have talked it over since. We thought we’d get a boy. Matthew is getting older, you know—he’s sixty—and he isn’t so spry as he once was. His heart troubles him a good deal. And you know how hard it is to hire someone to help. There’s never anybody except those stupid, half-grown boys. As soon as you’ve taught them how to do work, they’re up and off to the lobster canneries or down to the States. At first, Matthew suggested getting a foreign boy. But I said no to that. I said, ‘Give me a child that was born in Canada, at least. There’ll be a risk, no matter who we get, but I’ll feel a little easier in my mind if we get a Canadian boy.’ So in the end, we decided to ask Mrs. Spencer to pick us out a child when she went over to get her little girl. We heard last week she was going, so we sent a message to her to bring us a smart, promising boy of about ten or eleven years old. We decided that would be the best age—old enough to start doing chores and young enough to be trained properly. We mean to give him a good home and schooling. We got a message from Mrs. Alexander Spencer today—the mailman brought it from the station—saying they were coming on the five-thirty train tonight. So Matthew went to Bright River to meet him. Mrs. Spencer will drop him off there, and of course, she will continue riding the train to the White Sands station by herself.”
Mrs. Rachel prided herself on always speaking her mind. She proceeded to speak it now, having adjusted her mental attitude to this amazing piece of news.
“Well, Marilla, I’ll just tell you plainly: I think you’re doing a mighty foolish thing—a risky thing, that’s what. You don’t know what you’re getting. You’re bringing a strange child into your house and home and you don’t know a single thing about him, nor what his disposition is like, nor what sort of parents he had, nor how he’s likely to turn out. As a matter of fact, it was only last week that I read in the paper how a man and his wife living up west of the Island took a boy out of an orphan asylum and he set fire to the house at night—set it on purpose–and nearly burnt them to a crisp in their beds. And I know another case where an adopted boy used to suck eggs that he stole from the chicken coup, and they couldn’t get him to stop. If you had asked my advice—which you didn’t do, Marilla—I’d have begged you not to consider such a thing, that’s what.”
This lecture seemed neither to offend nor alarm Marilla. She just kept on knitting.
“I don’t deny that there is some truth in what you say, Rachel. I’ve had some qualms myself. But Matthew was set on it. I could see that, so I gave in. It’s so seldom Matthew sets his mind on anything that when he does, I always feel like I should give in. As for the risk, there’s risk in pretty much everything in this world. There are even risks in people having children of their own—they don’t always turn out well. And then, Nova Scotia is right close to the Island. It isn’t as if we were getting him from England or the States. He can’t be much different from ourselves.”
“Well, I hope it will turn out all right,” said Mrs. Rachel in a tone that plainly indicated her painful doubts. “Only don’t say I didn’t warn you if he burns Green Gables down or puts poison in the well—I heard of a case over in New Brunswick where an orphan asylum child did that and the whole family died in agony. Only, it was an orphan girl in that instance.”
“Well, we’re not getting a girl,” said Marilla, as if poisoning wells were a purely feminine accomplishment and not something a boy would ever do. “I’d never dream of trying to raise a girl. I wonder at Mrs. Alexander Spencer for doing it. But then again, she might even consider adopting the whole orphan asylum if she wanted to.”
Mrs. Rachel would have liked to stay until Matthew came home with his imported orphan. But reflecting that it would be a good two hours at least before his arrival, she concluded to go up the road to Robert Bell’s place and tell him the news. It would certainly make a sensation, and Mrs. Rachel loved to make a sensation. So she left (to Marilla’s relief, because she was starting to feel her doubts and fears reviving under the influence of Mrs. Rachel’s pessimism).
“Well, of all things that ever were or ever will be!” Muttered Mrs. Rachel when she was safely out on the lane. “It does really seem as if I must be dreaming. Well, I’m sorry for that poor young boy. Matthew and Marilla don’t know anything about children. They’ll expect the child to be wiser and steadier than an old man. It seems strange to imagine a child at Green Gables somehow. There’s never been one there because Matthew and Marilla were already grown up when the new house was built. I wouldn’t want to be in that orphan’s shoes. Oh my, but I pity him.”
Nobody but the wild rose bushes heard Mrs. Rachel as she muttered about pity. But, if she could have seen the child who was waiting patiently at the Bright River station at that very moment, her pity would have been even greater.
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.