Anne of Green Gables

by: L. M. Montgomery

Chapter II

Full text Chapter II

Chapter II

Matthew Cuthbert is Surprised


MATTHEW Cuthbert
and the sorrel mare jogged comfortably over the eight miles to Bright
River. It was a pretty road, running along between snug farmsteads, with
now and again a bit of balsamy fir wood to drive through or a hollow where
wild plums hung out their filmy bloom. The air was sweet with the breath
of many apple orchards and the meadows sloped away in the distance to
horizon mists of pearl and purple; while


Matthew enjoyed the drive after his own fashion, except during the moments
when he met women and had to nod to them—for in Prince Edward island
you are supposed to nod to all and sundry you meet on the road whether you
know them or not.


Matthew dreaded all women except Marilla and Mrs. Rachel; he had an
uncomfortable feeling that the mysterious creatures were secretly laughing
at him. He may have been quite right in thinking so, for he was an
odd-looking personage, with an ungainly figure and long iron-gray hair
that touched his stooping shoulders, and a full, soft brown beard which he
had worn ever since he was twenty. In fact, he had looked at twenty very
much as he looked at sixty, lacking a little of the grayness.


When he reached Bright River there was no sign of any train; he thought he
was too early, so he tied his horse in the yard of the small Bright River
hotel and went over to the station house. The long platform was almost
deserted; the only living creature in sight being a girl who was sitting
on a pile of shingles at the extreme end. Matthew, barely noting that it
was a girl, sidled past her as quickly as possible without looking
at her. Had he looked he could hardly have failed to notice the tense
rigidity and expectation of her attitude and expression. She was sitting
there waiting for something or somebody and, since sitting and waiting was
the only thing to do just then, she sat and waited with all her might and
main.


Matthew encountered the stationmaster locking up the ticket office
preparatory to going home for supper, and asked him if the five-thirty
train would soon be along.


"The five-thirty train has been in and gone half an hour ago," answered
that brisk official. "But there was a passenger dropped off for you—a
little girl. She's sitting out there on the shingles. I asked her to go
into the ladies' waiting room, but she informed me gravely that she
preferred to stay outside. 'There was more scope for imagination,' she
said. She's a case, I should say."


"I'm not expecting a girl," said Matthew blankly. "It's a boy I've come
for. He should be here. Mrs. Alexander Spencer was to bring him over from
Nova Scotia for me."


The stationmaster whistled.


"Guess there's some mistake," he said. "Mrs. Spencer came off the train
with that girl and gave her into my charge. Said you and your sister were
adopting her from an orphan asylum and that you would be along for her
presently. That's all I know about it—and I haven't got any more
orphans concealed hereabouts."


"I don't understand," said Matthew helplessly, wishing that Marilla was at
hand to cope with the situation.


"Well, you'd better question the girl," said the station-master
carelessly. "I dare say she'll be able to explain—she's got a tongue
of her own, that's certain. Maybe they were out of boys of the brand you
wanted."


He walked jauntily away, being hungry, and the unfortunate Matthew was
left to do that which was harder for him than bearding a lion in its den—walk
up to a girl—a strange girl—an orphan girl—and demand of
her why she wasn't a boy. Matthew groaned in spirit as he turned about and
shuffled gently down the platform towards her.


She had been watching him ever since he had passed her and she had her
eyes on him now. Matthew was not looking at her and would not have seen
what she was really like if he had been, but an ordinary observer would
have seen this: A child of about eleven, garbed in a very short, very
tight, very ugly dress of yellowish-gray wincey. She wore a faded brown
sailor hat and beneath the hat, extending down her back, were two braids
of very thick, decidedly red hair. Her face was small, white and thin,
also much freckled; her mouth was large and so were her eyes, which looked
green in some lights and moods and gray in others.


So far, the ordinary observer; an extraordinary observer might have seen
that the chin was very pointed and pronounced; that the big eyes were full
of spirit and vivacity; that the mouth was sweet-lipped and expressive;
that the forehead was broad and full; in short, our discerning
extraordinary observer might have concluded that no commonplace soul
inhabited the body of this stray woman-child of whom shy Matthew Cuthbert
was so ludicrously afraid.


Matthew, however, was spared the ordeal of speaking first, for as soon as
she concluded that he was coming to her she stood up, grasping with one
thin brown hand the handle of a shabby, old-fashioned carpet-bag; the
other she held out to him.


"I suppose you are Mr. Matthew Cuthbert of Green Gables?" she said in a
peculiarly clear, sweet voice. "I'm very glad to see you. I was beginning
to be afraid you weren't coming for me and I was imagining all the things
that might have happened to prevent you. I had made up my mind that if you
didn't come for me to-night I'd go down the track to that big wild
cherry-tree at the bend, and climb up into it to stay all night. I
wouldn't be a bit afraid, and it would be lovely to sleep in a wild
cherry-tree all white with bloom in the moonshine, don't you think? You
could imagine you were dwelling in marble halls, couldn't you? And I was
quite sure you would come for me in the morning, if you didn't to-night."


Matthew had taken the scrawny little hand awkwardly in his; then and there
he decided what to do. He could not tell this child with the glowing eyes
that there had been a mistake; he would take her home and let Marilla do
that. She couldn't be left at Bright River anyhow, no matter what mistake
had been made, so all questions and explanations might as well be deferred
until he was safely back at Green Gables.


"I'm sorry I was late," he said shyly. "Come along. The horse is over in
the yard. Give me your bag."


"Oh, I can carry it," the child responded cheerfully. "It isn't heavy.
I've got all my worldly goods in it, but it isn't heavy. And if it isn't
carried in just a certain way the handle pulls out—so I'd better
keep it because I know the exact knack of it. It's an extremely old
carpet-bag. Oh, I'm very glad you've come, even if it would have been nice
to sleep in a wild cherry-tree. We've got to drive a long piece, haven't
we? Mrs. Spencer said it was eight miles. I'm glad because I love driving.
Oh, it seems so wonderful that I'm going to live with you and belong to
you. I've never belonged to anybody—not really. But the asylum was
the worst. I've only been in it four months, but that was enough. I don't
suppose you ever were an orphan in an asylum, so you can't possibly
understand what it is like. It's worse than anything you could imagine.
Mrs. Spencer said it was wicked of me to talk like that, but I didn't mean
to be wicked. It's so easy to be wicked without knowing it, isn't it? They
were good, you know—the asylum people. But there is so little scope
for the imagination in an asylum—only just in the other orphans. It
was pretty interesting to imagine things about them—to imagine that
perhaps the girl who sat next to you was really the daughter of a belted
earl, who had been stolen away from her parents in her infancy by a cruel
nurse who died before she could confess. I used to lie awake at nights and
imagine things like that, because I didn't have time in the day. I guess
that's why I'm so thin—I am dreadful thin, ain't I? There
isn't a pick on my bones. I do love to imagine I'm nice and plump, with
dimples in my elbows."


With this Matthew's companion stopped talking, partly because she was out
of breath and partly because they had reached the buggy. Not another word
did she say until they had left the village and were driving down a steep
little hill, the road part of which had been cut so deeply into the soft
soil, that the banks, fringed with blooming wild cherry-trees and slim
white birches, were several feet above their heads.


The child put out her hand and broke off a branch of wild plum that
brushed against the side of the buggy.


"Isn't that beautiful? What did that tree, leaning out from the bank, all
white and lacy, make you think of?" she asked.


"Well now, I dunno," said Matthew.


"Why, a bride, of course—a bride all in white with a lovely misty
veil. I've never seen one, but I can imagine what she would look like. I
don't ever expect to be a bride myself. I'm so homely nobody will ever
want to marry me—unless it might be a foreign missionary. I suppose
a foreign missionary mightn't be very particular. But I do hope that some
day I shall have a white dress. That is my highest ideal of earthly bliss.
I just love pretty clothes. And I've never had a pretty dress in my life
that I can remember—but of course it's all the more to look forward
to, isn't it? And then I can imagine that I'm dressed gorgeously. This
morning when I left the asylum I felt so ashamed because I had to wear
this horrid old wincey dress. All the orphans had to wear them, you know.
A merchant in Hopeton last winter donated three hundred yards of wincey to
the asylum. Some people said it was because he couldn't sell it, but I'd
rather believe that it was out of the kindness of his heart, wouldn't you?
When we got on the train I felt as if everybody must be looking at me and
pitying me. But I just went to work and imagined that I had on the most
beautiful pale blue silk dress—because when you are imagining
you might as well imagine something worth while—and a big hat all
flowers and nodding plumes, and a gold watch, and kid gloves and boots. I
felt cheered up right away and I enjoyed my trip to the Island with all my
might. I wasn't a bit sick coming over in the boat. Neither was Mrs.
Spencer although she generally is. She said she hadn't time to get sick,
watching to see that I didn't fall overboard. She said she never saw the
beat of me for prowling about. But if it kept her from being seasick it's
a mercy I did prowl, isn't it? And I wanted to see everything that was to
be seen on that boat, because I didn't know whether I'd ever have another
opportunity. Oh, there are a lot more cherry-trees all in bloom! This
Island is the bloomiest place. I just love it already, and I'm so glad I'm
going to live here. I've always heard that Prince Edward Island was the
prettiest place in the world, and I used to imagine I was living here, but
I never really expected I would. It's delightful when your imaginations
come true, isn't it? But those red roads are so funny. When we got into
the train at Charlottetown and the red roads began to flash past I asked
Mrs. Spencer what made them red and she said she didn't know and for
pity's sake not to ask her any more questions. She said I must have asked
her a thousand already. I suppose I had, too, but how you going to find
out about things if you don't ask questions? And what does make the
roads red?"


"Well now, I dunno," said Matthew.


"Well, that is one of the things to find out sometime. Isn't it splendid
to think of all the things there are to find out about? It just makes me
feel glad to be alive—it's such an interesting world. It wouldn't be
half so interesting if we know all about everything, would it? There'd be
no scope for imagination then, would there? But am I talking too much?
People are always telling me I do. Would you rather I didn't talk? If you
say so I'll stop. I can stop when I make up my mind to it, although
it's difficult."


Matthew, much to his own surprise, was enjoying himself. Like most quiet
folks he liked talkative people when they were willing to do the talking
themselves and did not expect him to keep up his end of it. But he had
never expected to enjoy the society of a little girl. Women were bad
enough in all conscience, but little girls were worse. He detested the way
they had of sidling past him timidly, with sidewise glances, as if they
expected him to gobble them up at a mouthful if they ventured to say a
word. That was the Avonlea type of well-bred little girl. But this
freckled witch was very different, and although he found it rather
difficult for his slower intelligence to keep up with her brisk mental
processes he thought that he "kind of liked her chatter." So he said as
shyly as usual:


"Oh, you can talk as much as you like. I don't mind."


"Oh, I'm so glad. I know you and I are going to get along together fine.
It's such a relief to talk when one wants to and not be told that children
should be seen and not heard. I've had that said to me a million times if
I have once. And people laugh at me because I use big words. But if you
have big ideas you have to use big words to express them, haven't you?"


"Well now, that seems reasonable," said Matthew.


"Mrs. Spencer said that my tongue must be hung in the middle. But it isn't—it's
firmly fastened at one end. Mrs. Spencer said your place was named Green
Gables. I asked her all about it. And she said there were trees all around
it. I was gladder than ever. I just love trees. And there weren't any at
all about the asylum, only a few poor weeny-teeny things out in front with
little whitewashed cagey things about them. They just looked like orphans
themselves, those trees did. It used to make me want to cry to look at
them. I used to say to them, 'Oh, you poor little things! If you
were out in a great big woods with other trees all around you and little
mosses and June bells growing over your roots and a brook not far away and
birds singing in you branches, you could grow, couldn't you? But you can't
where you are. I know just exactly how you feel, little trees.' I felt
sorry to leave them behind this morning. You do get so attached to things
like that, don't you? Is there a brook anywhere near Green Gables? I
forgot to ask Mrs. Spencer that."


"Well now, yes, there's one right below the house."


"Fancy. It's always been one of my dreams to live near a brook. I never
expected I would, though. Dreams don't often come true, do they? Wouldn't
it be nice if they did? But just now I feel pretty nearly perfectly happy.
I can't feel exactly perfectly happy because—well, what color would
you call this?"


She twitched one of her long glossy braids over her thin shoulder and held
it up before Matthew's eyes. Matthew was not used to deciding on the tints
of ladies' tresses, but in this case there couldn't be much doubt.


"It's red, ain't it?" he said.


The girl let the braid drop back with a sigh that seemed to come from her
very toes and to exhale forth all the sorrows of the ages.


"Yes, it's red," she said resignedly. "Now you see why I can't be
perfectly happy. Nobody could who has red hair. I don't mind the other
things so much—the freckles and the green eyes and my skinniness. I
can imagine them away. I can imagine that I have a beautiful rose-leaf
complexion and lovely starry violet eyes. But I cannot imagine that
red hair away. I do my best. I think to myself, 'Now my hair is a glorious
black, black as the raven's wing.' But all the time I know it is
just plain red and it breaks my heart. It will be my lifelong sorrow. I
read of a girl once in a novel who had a lifelong sorrow but it wasn't red
hair. Her hair was pure gold rippling back from her alabaster brow. What
is an alabaster brow? I never could find out. Can you tell me?"


"Well now, I'm afraid I can't," said Matthew, who was getting a little
dizzy. He felt as he had once felt in his rash youth when another boy had
enticed him on the merry-go-round at a picnic.


"Well, whatever it was it must have been something nice because she was
divinely beautiful. Have you ever imagined what it must feel like to be
divinely beautiful?"


"Well now, no, I haven't," confessed Matthew ingenuously.


"I have, often. Which would you rather be if you had the choice—divinely
beautiful or dazzlingly clever or angelically good?"


"Well now, I—I don't know exactly."


"Neither do I. I can never decide. But it doesn't make much real
difference for it isn't likely I'll ever be either. It's certain I'll
never be angelically good. Mrs. Spencer says—oh, Mr. Cuthbert! Oh,
Mr. Cuthbert!! Oh, Mr. Cuthbert!!!"


That was not what Mrs. Spencer had said; neither had the child tumbled out
of the buggy nor had Matthew done anything astonishing. They had simply
rounded a curve in the road and found themselves in the "Avenue."


The "Avenue," so called by the Newbridge people, was a stretch of road
four or five hundred yards long, completely arched over with huge,
wide-spreading apple-trees, planted years ago by an eccentric old farmer.
Overhead was one long canopy of snowy fragrant bloom. Below the boughs the
air was full of a purple twilight and far ahead a glimpse of painted
sunset sky shone like a great rose window at the end of a cathedral aisle.


Its beauty seemed to strike the child dumb. She leaned back in the buggy,
her thin hands clasped before her, her face lifted rapturously to the
white splendor above. Even when they had passed out and were driving down
the long slope to Newbridge she never moved or spoke. Still with rapt face
she gazed afar into the sunset west, with eyes that saw visions trooping
splendidly across that glowing background. Through Newbridge, a bustling
little village where dogs barked at them and small boys hooted and curious
faces peered from the windows, they drove, still in silence. When three
more miles had dropped away behind them the child had not spoken. She
could keep silence, it was evident, as energetically as she could talk.


"I guess you're feeling pretty tired and hungry," Matthew ventured to say
at last, accounting for her long visitation of dumbness with the only
reason he could think of. "But we haven't very far to go now—only
another mile."


She came out of her reverie with a deep sigh and looked at him with the
dreamy gaze of a soul that had been wondering afar, star-led.


"Oh, Mr. Cuthbert," she whispered, "that place we came through—that
white place—what was it?"


"Well now, you must mean the Avenue," said Matthew after a few moments'
profound reflection. "It is a kind of pretty place."


"Pretty? Oh, pretty doesn't seem the right word to use. Nor
beautiful, either. They don't go far enough. Oh, it was wonderful—wonderful.
It's the first thing I ever saw that couldn't be improved upon by
imagination. It just satisfies me here"—she put one hand on her
breast—"it made a queer funny ache and yet it was a pleasant ache.
Did you ever have an ache like that, Mr. Cuthbert?"


"Well now, I just can't recollect that I ever had."


"I have it lots of time—whenever I see anything royally beautiful.
But they shouldn't call that lovely place the Avenue. There is no meaning
in a name like that. They should call it—let me see—the White
Way of Delight. Isn't that a nice imaginative name? When I don't like the
name of a place or a person I always imagine a new one and always think of
them so. There was a girl at the asylum whose name was Hepzibah Jenkins,
but I always imagined her as Rosalia DeVere. Other people may call that
place the Avenue, but I shall always call it the White Way of Delight.
Have we really only another mile to go before we get home? I'm glad and
I'm sorry. I'm sorry because this drive has been so pleasant and I'm
always sorry when pleasant things end. Something still pleasanter may come
after, but you can never be sure. And it's so often the case that it isn't
pleasanter. That has been my experience anyhow. But I'm glad to think of
getting home. You see, I've never had a real home since I can remember. It
gives me that pleasant ache again just to think of coming to a really
truly home. Oh, isn't that pretty!"


They had driven over the crest of a hill. Below them was a pond, looking
almost like a river so long and winding was it. A bridge spanned it midway
and from there to its lower end, where an amber-hued belt of sand-hills
shut it in from the dark blue gulf beyond, the water was a glory of many
shifting hues—the most spiritual shadings of crocus and rose and
ethereal green, with other elusive tintings for which no name has ever
been found. Above the bridge the pond ran up into fringing groves of fir
and maple and lay all darkly translucent in their wavering shadows. Here
and there a wild plum leaned out from the bank like a white-clad girl
tip-toeing to her own reflection. From the marsh at the head of the pond
came the clear, mournfully-sweet chorus of the frogs. There was a little
gray house peering around a white apple orchard on a slope beyond and,
although it was not yet quite dark, a light was shining from one of its
windows.


"That's Barry's pond," said Matthew.


"Oh, I don't like that name, either. I shall call it—let me see—the
Lake of Shining Waters. Yes, that is the right name for it. I know because
of the thrill. When I hit on a name that suits exactly it gives me a
thrill. Do things ever give you a thrill?"


Matthew ruminated.


"Well now, yes. It always kind of gives me a thrill to see them ugly white
grubs that spade up in the cucumber beds. I hate the look of them."


"Oh, I don't think that can be exactly the same kind of a thrill. Do you
think it can? There doesn't seem to be much connection between grubs and
lakes of shining waters, does there? But why do other people call it
Barry's pond?"


"I reckon because Mr. Barry lives up there in that house. Orchard Slope's
the name of his place. If it wasn't for that big bush behind it you could
see Green Gables from here. But we have to go over the bridge and round by
the road, so it's near half a mile further."


"Has Mr. Barry any little girls? Well, not so very little either—about
my size."


"He's got one about eleven. Her name is Diana."


"Oh!" with a long indrawing of breath. "What a perfectly lovely name!"


"Well now, I dunno. There's something dreadful heathenish about it, seems
to me. I'd ruther Jane or Mary or some sensible name like that. But when
Diana was born there was a schoolmaster boarding there and they gave him
the naming of her and he called her Diana."


"I wish there had been a schoolmaster like that around when I was born,
then. Oh, here we are at the bridge. I'm going to shut my eyes tight. I'm
always afraid going over bridges. I can't help imagining that perhaps just
as we get to the middle, they'll crumple up like a jack-knife and nip us.
So I shut my eyes. But I always have to open them for all when I think
we're getting near the middle. Because, you see, if the bridge did
crumple up I'd want to see it crumple. What a jolly rumble it
makes! I always like the rumble part of it. Isn't it splendid there are so
many things to like in this world? There we're over. Now I'll look back.
Good night, dear Lake of Shining Waters. I always say good night to the
things I love, just as I would to people. I think they like it. That water
looks as if it was smiling at me."


When they had driven up the further hill and around a corner Matthew said:


"We're pretty near home now. That's Green Gables over—"


"Oh, don't tell me," she interrupted breathlessly, catching at his
partially raised arm and shutting her eyes that she might not see his
gesture. "Let me guess. I'm sure I'll guess right."


She opened her eyes and looked about her. They were on the crest of a
hill. The sun had set some time since, but the landscape was still clear
in the mellow afterlight. To the west a dark church spire rose up against
a marigold sky. Below was a little valley and beyond a long, gently-rising
slope with snug farmsteads scattered along it. From one to another the
child's eyes darted, eager and wistful. At last they lingered on one away
to the left, far back from the road, dimly white with blossoming trees in
the twilight of the surrounding woods. Over it, in the stainless southwest
sky, a great crystal-white star was shining like a lamp of guidance and
promise.


"That's it, isn't it?" she said, pointing.


Matthew slapped the reins on the sorrel's back delightedly.


"Well now, you've guessed it! But I reckon Mrs. Spencer described it so's
you could tell."


"No, she didn't—really she didn't. All she said might just as well
have been about most of those other places. I hadn't any real idea what it
looked like. But just as soon as I saw it I felt it was home. Oh, it seems
as if I must be in a dream. Do you know, my arm must be black and blue
from the elbow up, for I've pinched myself so many times today. Every
little while a horrible sickening feeling would come over me and I'd be so
afraid it was all a dream. Then I'd pinch myself to see if it was real—until
suddenly I remembered that even supposing it was only a dream I'd better
go on dreaming as long as I could; so I stopped pinching. But it is
real and we're nearly home."


With a sigh of rapture she relapsed into silence. Matthew stirred
uneasily. He felt glad that it would be Marilla and not he who would have
to tell this waif of the world that the home she longed for was not to be
hers after all. They drove over Lynde's Hollow, where it was already quite
dark, but not so dark that Mrs. Rachel could not see them from her window
vantage, and up the hill and into the long lane of Green Gables. By the
time they arrived at the house Matthew was shrinking from the approaching
revelation with an energy he did not understand. It was not of Marilla or
himself he was thinking of the trouble this mistake was probably going to
make for them, but of the child's disappointment. When he thought of that
rapt light being quenched in her eyes he had an uncomfortable feeling that
he was going to assist at murdering something—much the same feeling
that came over him when he had to kill a lamb or calf or any other
innocent little creature.


The yard was quite dark as they turned into it and the poplar leaves were
rustling silkily all round it.


"Listen to the trees talking in their sleep," she whispered, as he lifted
her to the ground. "What nice dreams they must have!"


Then, holding tightly to the carpet-bag which contained "all her worldly
goods," she followed him into the house.