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.
“Well, how do you like them?” asked Marilla.
Anne was standing in the gable room, looking down at three new dresses spread out on the bed. One dress was a brown, checkered dress that looked like something a maid or a restaurant server would wear. Another was a black and white checkered dress that was made from satin fabric that Marilla had bought on sale. And the last was a stiff dress in an ugly shade of blue.
All of them, Marilla had made herself, and so they were all made in the same design—plain skirts, plain waists, plain sleeves and plain collars.
“I’ll imagine that I like them,” said Anne sadly.
“I don’t want you to imagine it,” said Marilla, offended. “Oh, I can see that you don’t like the dresses! What’s the matter with them? Aren’t they neat and clean and new?”
“Then why don’t you like them?”
“They’re… they’re not… pretty,” said Anne reluctantly.
“Pretty!” Marilla sniffed. “I didn’t go through the trouble of getting pretty dresses for you. I don’t believe in pampering vanity, Anne, I’ll tell you that. Those dresses are good, sensible dresses without any frills. They are all you’ll get this summer. The brown and blue dresses will be for school, and the satin dress is for church and Sunday school. I’ll expect you to keep them neat and clean and not to tear them. I thought you’d be grateful to get anything at all after that short dress from the asylum you’ve been wearing.
“Oh, I AM grateful,” protested Anne. “But I’d be much more grateful if… if you’d made just one of them with puffed sleeves. Puffed sleeves are so fashionable now. It would give me such a thrill, Marilla, just to wear a dress with puffed sleeves.”
“Well, you won’t have that thrill. I didn’t have any extra material to waste on puffed sleeves. I think they look ridiculous, anyhow. I prefer the plain, sensible ones.”
“But I’d rather look ridiculous when everybody else does! I don’t want to be plain and sensible all by myself,” persisted Anne mournfully.
“I believe that! Well, hang those dresses up carefully in your closet, and then sit down and learn the Sunday school lesson. I talked to Mr. Bell and you’ll go to Sunday school tomorrow,” said Marilla, disappearing downstairs.
Anne clasped her hands and looked at the dresses.
“I hoped that there would be a white one with puffed sleeves,” she whispered to herself. “I prayed for one, but I didn’t really expect it. I don’t think God would have time to bother about a little orphan girl’s dress. I knew I’d just have to depend on Marilla for it. Well, fortunately I can imagine that one of them is snow white with lovely lace frills and triple-puffed sleeves.”
The next morning, Marilla felt sick from a headache which meant that she couldn’t accompany Anne to Sunday school.
“You’ll have to go down and ask Mrs. Rachel to bring you to class, Anne,” she said. “She’ll make sure that you get into the right class. Now, don’t forget to behave yourself properly. After Sunday school, stay for the church service. Ask Mrs. Rachel where to sit in the pews. Here’s some money to put in the offerings. Don’t stare at people and don’t fidget. Pay attention to both school and the service because I’ll ask you about them when you come back home.”
Anne put on her black and white satin dress and headed towards Mrs. Rachel’s house. In her Sunday dress, she still looked skinny. Her hat was a little sailor hat. Her extreme plainness disappointed Anne, but she let herself imagine that she was covered in ribbons and flowers. In fact, as she walked toward the church, she gathered up wild flowers from the roadside and made a pink and yellow garland for her hat. However silly it might have looked, Anne loved it and wore it proudly.
When she had reached Mrs. Rachel’s house, she found that the woman was already gone. Completely undaunted, Anne proceeded toward the church alone. On the church’s porch, she saw a crowd of little girls. They were all beautifully dressed in whites and blues and pinks, and they were all staring at her as she approached. Avonlea little girls had already heard strange stories about Anne. Mrs. Rachael said she had an awful temper. Jerry Buote, a hired boy at Green Gables, said she talked all the time to herself or to the trees and flowers like a crazy person. They looked at her and whispered to each other. Nobody made any gestures of welcome.
Soon, Anne was in Miss Rogerson’s class with all the other unfriendly children.
Miss Rogerson was a middle-aged lady who had taught a Sunday school class for twenty years. Her method of teaching was this: ask the questions that were printed in the textbook and look sternly at a particular little girl who she thought would know the answer to the question. She looked very often at Anne, and Anne, thanks to Marilla’s drilling, answered promptly. But even though Anne had memorized the answers, she didn’t really understand the MEANING of the questions or answers.
She didn’t think that she liked Miss Rogerson. She felt very miserable in the class. Every other little girl there had puffed sleeves. Anne felt that life was not really worth living without puffed sleeves.
“Well, how did you like Sunday school?” Marilla wanted to know when Anne came home. Her pink and yellow garland had faded, so she had tossed it away in the lane. Marilla was spared the knowledge of that, at least.
“I didn’t like it a bit. It was horrible.”
“Anne Shirley!” said Marilla.
Anne sat down on a chair with a long sigh, kissed one of Bonny’s leaves, and touched one of the pink petals.
“The flowers might have been lonely while I was away,” she explained. “And now about the Sunday school. I behaved well, just as you told me. Mrs. Rachel was gone, but I went there by myself. I went into the church with all of the other girls, and I sat in the corner pew by the window during the morning service before school. Mr. Bell made an awfully long prayer. I would have been dreadfully tired, but thank goodness I was sitting next to that window. I looked out and saw the Lake of Shining Waters, so I just gazed at it and imagined all sorts of splendid things.”
“You shouldn’t have done that! You should have listened to Mr. Bell.”
“But he wasn’t talking to me,” protested Anne. “He was talking to God and he didn’t seem to be very interested in it, either. I think he thought God was too far away or something. There was a long row of white birch trees hanging over the lake and the sunshine fell down through them, way deep into the water. Oh, Marilla, it was like a beautiful dream! It gave me a thrill and I said, ‘Thank you for it, God,’ two or three times.”
“Not out loud, I hope,” said Marilla anxiously.
“Oh, no, just under my breath. Well, Mr. Bell finally finished and they told me to go into the classroom with Miss Rogerson’s class. There were nine other girls in it. They all had puffed sleeves. I tried to imagine mine were puffed, too, but I couldn’t. Why couldn’t I? It was as easy as could be to imagine they were puffed when I was alone in the east gable, but it was awfully hard to imagine in front of the others who really had puffs.”
“You shouldn’t have been thinking about your sleeves in Sunday school. You should have been paying attention to the lesson. I hope you learned from it.”
“Oh, yes. And I answered a lot of questions. Miss Rogerson asked so many. I don’t think it was fair of her to do all the asking. There were lots of things that I wanted to ask her, but I didn’t ask because she didn’t seem like a kindred spirit. Then all the other little girls recited some verses. She asked me if I knew any. I told her I didn’t but I could recite ‘The Dog at His Master’s Grave’ if she liked. That’s in the third-grade reader. It isn’t really a religious piece of poetry, but it’s so sad and dreary that it seems like something from a scripture. She said it wouldn’t be appropriate, and then she told me to learn the nineteenth poem for next Sunday. I read it over in church afterwards and it’s splendid. There are two lines in particular that just thrill me.
Quick as the slaughtered squadrons fell
In Midian’s evil day.
“I don’t know what ’squadrons’ means or what ‘Midian’ means either, but it sounds so tragic. I can hardly wait until next Sunday to recite it. I’ll practice it all week. After Sunday school, I asked Miss Rogerson—because Mrs. Rachel was too far away—to show me the pew where you sit. I sat as still as I could and listened. Mr. Bell read from Revelation, the third chapter, second and third verses. It was a very long text. If I was a minister, I’d pick the short, snappy ones. The sermon was awfully long, too. I suppose the minister had to match it to the text. I didn’t think he was interesting at all. The problem is that he doesn’t have enough imagination. I didn’t listen to him very much. I just let my thoughts run and I thought of the most surprising things.”
Marilla felt helpless. She thought all of Anne’s words should be sternly reprimanded, but she was troubled by another undeniable fact: Some of the things Anne had said, especially about the minister’s sermons and Mr. Bell’s prayers, were what she herself had really thought deep down in her heart for years. She had just never admitted it out loud. It was almost as if her secrets and critical thoughts had suddenly come to life in the form of this neglected orphan child.
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.