Anne announces that she is determined to enjoy the ride back to Mrs. Spencer’s orphanage. Marilla, realizing that Anne must talk about something, decides to pick the topic herself, and asks Anne about her past. Anne says she would prefer to tell what she imagines about herself, as her imagination is so much richer than her history, but she agrees to tell her story. Her parents, Walter and Bertha Shirley, were teachers, and both died of fever when Anne was a baby. She was adopted by Mrs. Thomas, a poor woman with a drunken husband, who wanted Anne only so she would have help with her children. Eight years later, after the death of Mr. Thomas, Mrs. Thomas gave Anne to another poor woman, Mrs. Hammond, and Anne cared for Mrs. Hammond’s three sets of twins. After two years, Mr. Hammond died, and Anne was sent to the orphanage, where she lived for four months. She received little schooling but compensated for her lack of formal education by reading voraciously.
After hearing Anne’s sad history, Marilla pities her for the first time. Anne, however, refuses to feel sorry for herself, crediting her various foster mothers with good intentions, even if the women were not always kind. Marilla begins to consider keeping Anne. She thinks Anne ladylike and supposes Anne could easily be trained out of her bad habits.
Marilla and Anne arrive at Mrs. Spencer’s orphanage and explain the mistake. Mrs. Spencer apologizes and says that the situation will work out for the best anyway. Another woman, Mrs. Peter Blewett, wants to adopt a girl to help with her rambunctious children, so Anne can be handed over to her, allowing the Cuthberts to adopt the boy they originally wanted. This news does not please Marilla, for Mrs. Blewett is known for her nastiness and stinginess, and for driving her servants hard. Marilla feels a twinge of guilt at the thought of relinquishing Anne to her. Mrs. Blewett comes to borrow a recipe from Mrs. Spencer, and her presence terrifies Anne. Marilla takes Anne back to Green Gables, saying she needs time to think about the proposition.
At home, she tells Matthew that she is willing to keep Anne if he agrees not to interfere with her child-rearing methods. Marilla admits to nervousness at the prospect of raising a girl but tells Matthew, “Perhaps an old maid doesn’t know much about bringing up a child, but I guess she knows more than an old bachelor.” Matthew, delighted by Marilla’s decision, asks only that Marilla be good and kind to Anne. Marilla reflects that she has invited a challenge into her life. She cannot quite believe what she is about to do, and she is even more surprised that Matthew, famous for his fear of women, is so adamant about keeping Anne. She decides to wait until the following day to tell Anne of their decision.
At bedtime, Marilla begins her program of moral and social education for Anne. She scolds Anne for leaving her clothes all over the floor the previous night and for failing to pray before bed. Anne replies that she has never said a prayer and does not know how to pray, though she would be happy to learn. Anne begins to ruminate on the language of prayer and religion. At the asylum, she was taught that God is “infinite, eternal, and unchangeable,” a description she thought grand. She explains that she rejected God because Mrs. Thomas told her God gave her red hair on purpose.
Despite her distaste for God, Anne wants to oblige Marilla. Marilla, horrified that a near-heathen is staying under her roof, begins to teach Anne the prayer “Now I lay me down to sleep,” but she senses that this prayer for innocent children is inappropriate for Anne, who has already had such a hard life. She lets Anne create her own prayer, and Anne improvises a flowery speech thanking God for such gifts as Bonny the geranium and the White Way of Delight, which is what she calls the main road of Avonlea. She prays for Green Gables to become her home, and to become pretty when she grows up. She ends the prayer by saying, “Yours respectfully, Anne Shirley.” Marilla resolves to send Anne to Sunday school as soon as she can make her some proper clothes.