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Chapter III


CHAPTER III

Marilla Cuthbert is Surprised


Marilla came briskly forward as Matthew opened the door.
But when her eyes fell of the odd little figure in the
stiff, ugly dress, with the long braids of red hair and the
eager, luminous eyes, she stopped short in amazement.

"Matthew Cuthbert, who's that?" she ejaculated.  "Where is
the boy?"

"There wasn't any boy," said Matthew wretchedly.  "There was
only HER."

He nodded at the child, remembering that he had never even
asked her name.

"No boy!  But there MUST have been a boy," insisted Marilla.
"We sent word to Mrs. Spencer to bring a boy."

"Well, she didn't.  She brought HER.  I asked the station-
master.  And I had to bring her home.  She couldn't be left
there, no matter where the mistake had come in."

"Well, this is a pretty piece of business!" ejaculated Marilla.

During this dialogue the child had remained silent, her eyes
roving from one to the other, all the animation fading out
of her face.  Suddenly she seemed to grasp the full meaning
of what had been said.  Dropping her precious carpet-bag she
sprang forward a step and clasped her hands.

"You don't want me!" she cried.  "You don't want me because
I'm not a boy!  I might have expected it.  Nobody ever did
want me.  I might have known it was all too beautiful to last.
I might have known nobody really did want me.  Oh, what shall
I do?  I'm going to burst into tears!"

Burst into tears she did.  Sitting down on a chair by the
table, flinging her arms out upon it, and burying her face
in them, she proceeded to cry stormily.  Marilla and Matthew
looked at each other deprecatingly across the stove.
Neither of them knew what to say or do.  Finally Marilla
stepped lamely into the breach.

"Well, well, there's no need to cry so about it."

"Yes, there IS need!"  The child raised her head quickly,
revealing a tear-stained face and trembling lips.  "YOU
would cry, too, if you were an orphan and had come to a
place you thought was going to be home and found that they
didn't want you because you weren't a boy.  Oh, this is the
most TRAGICAL thing that ever happened to me!"

Something like a reluctant smile, rather rusty from long
disuse, mellowed Marilla's grim expression.

"Well, don't cry any more.  We're not going to turn you out-
of-doors to-night.  You'll have to stay here until we
investigate this affair.  What's your name?"

The child hesitated for a moment.

"Will you please call me Cordelia?" she said eagerly.

"CALL you Cordelia?  Is that your name?"

"No-o-o, it's not exactly my name, but I would love to be
called Cordelia.  It's such a perfectly elegant name."

"I don't know what on earth you mean.  If Cordelia isn't
your name, what is?"

"Anne Shirley," reluctantly faltered forth the owner of that
name, "but, oh, please do call me Cordelia.  It can't matter
much to you what you call me if I'm only going to be here a
little while, can it?  And Anne is such an unromantic name."

"Unromantic fiddlesticks!" said the unsympathetic Marilla.
"Anne is a real good plain sensible name.  You've no need to
be ashamed of it."

"Oh, I'm not ashamed of it," explained Anne, "only I like
Cordelia better.  I've always imagined that my name was
Cordelia--at least, I always have of late years.  When I was
young I used to imagine it was Geraldine, but I like
Cordelia better now.  But if you call me Anne please call me
Anne spelled with an E."

"What difference does it make how it's spelled?" asked Marilla
with another rusty smile as she picked up the teapot.

"Oh, it makes SUCH a difference.  It LOOKS so much nicer.
When you hear a name pronounced can't you always see it in
your mind, just as if it was printed out?  I can; and A-n-n
looks dreadful, but A-n-n-e looks so much more distinguished.
If you'll only call me Anne spelled with an E I shall try to
reconcile myself to not being called Cordelia."

"Very well, then, Anne spelled with an E, can you tell us how
this mistake came to be made?  We sent word to Mrs. Spencer
to bring us a boy.  Were there no boys at the asylum?"

"Oh, yes, there was an abundance of them.  But Mrs. Spencer
said DISTINCTLY that you wanted a girl about eleven years
old.  And the matron said she thought I would do.  You don't
know how delighted I was.  I couldn't sleep all last night
for joy.  Oh," she added reproachfully, turning to Matthew,
"why didn't you tell me at the station that you didn't want
me and leave me there?  If I hadn't seen the White Way of
Delight and the Lake of Shining Waters it wouldn't be so hard."

"What on earth does she mean?" demanded Marilla, staring
at Matthew.

"She--she's just referring to some conversation we had on
the road," said Matthew hastily.  "I'm going out to put the
mare in, Marilla.  Have tea ready when I come back."

"Did Mrs. Spencer bring anybody over besides you?"
continued Marilla when Matthew had gone out.

"She brought Lily Jones for herself.  Lily is only five years
old and she is very beautiful and had nut-brown hair. If I was
very beautiful and had nut-brown hair would you keep me?"

"No.  We want a boy to help Matthew on the farm.  A girl
would be of no use to us.  Take off your hat.  I'll lay it
and your bag on the hall table."

Anne took off her hat meekly.  Matthew came back presently
and they sat down to supper.  But Anne could not eat.  In
vain she nibbled at the bread and butter and pecked at the
crab-apple preserve out of the little scalloped glass dish
by her plate.  She did not really make any headway at all.

"You're not eating anything," said Marilla sharply, eying
her as if it were a serious shortcoming.  Anne sighed.

"I can't.  I'm in the depths of despair.  Can you eat when
you are in the depths of despair?"

"I've never been in the depths of despair, so I can't say,"
responded Marilla.

"Weren't you?  Well, did you ever try to IMAGINE you were in
the depths of despair?"

"No, I didn't."

"Then I don't think you can understand what it's like.  It's
very uncomfortable feeling indeed.  When you try to eat a lump
comes right up in your throat and you can't swallow anything,
not even if it was a chocolate caramel.  I had one chocolate
caramel once two years ago and it was simply delicious.  I've
often dreamed since then that I had a lot of chocolate caramels,
but I always wake up just when I'm going to eat them.  I do hope
you won't be offended because I can't eat.  Everything is
extremely nice, but still I cannot eat."

"I guess she's tired," said Matthew, who hadn't spoken since
his return from the barn.  "Best put her to bed, Marilla."

Marilla had been wondering where Anne should be put to bed.
She had prepared a couch in the kitchen chamber for the
desired and expected boy.  But, although it was neat and
clean, it did not seem quite the thing to put a girl there
somehow.  But the spare room was out of the question for
such a stray waif, so there remained only the east gable
room.  Marilla lighted a candle and told Anne to follow her,
which Anne spiritlessly did, taking her hat and carpet-bag
from the hall table as she passed.  The hall was fearsomely
clean; the little gable chamber in which she presently found
herself seemed still cleaner.

Marilla set the candle on a three-legged, three-cornered
table and turned down the bedclothes.

"I suppose you have a nightgown?" she questioned.

Anne nodded.

"Yes, I have two.  The matron of the asylum made them for
me.  They're fearfully skimpy.  There is never enough to go
around in an asylum, so things are always skimpy--at least
in a poor asylum like ours.  I hate skimpy night-dresses.
But one can dream just as well in them as in lovely trailing
ones, with frills around the neck, that's one consolation."

"Well, undress as quick as you can and go to bed.  I'll come
back in a few minutes for the candle.  I daren't trust you
to put it out yourself.  You'd likely set the place on fire."

When Marilla had gone Anne looked around her wistfully.
The whitewashed walls were so painfully bare and staring
that she thought they must ache over their own bareness.
The floor was bare, too, except for a round braided mat in
the middle such as Anne had never seen before.  In one corner
was the bed, a high, old-fashioned one, with four dark, low-
turned posts.  In the other corner was the aforesaid three-
corner table adorned with a fat, red velvet pin-cushion hard
enough to turn the point of the most adventurous pin.  Above
it hung a little six-by-eight mirror.  Midway between table
and bed was the window, with an icy white muslin frill over
it, and opposite it was the wash-stand.  The whole apartment
was of a rigidity not to be described in words, but which
sent a shiver to the very marrow of Anne's bones.  With a
sob she hastily discarded her garments, put on the skimpy
nightgown and sprang into bed where she burrowed face
downward into the pillow and pulled the clothes over her
head.  When Marilla came up for the light various skimpy
articles of raiment scattered most untidily over the floor
and a certain tempestuous appearance of the bed were the
only indications of any presence save her own.

She deliberately picked up Anne's clothes, placed them
neatly on a prim yellow chair, and then, taking up the
candle, went over to the bed.

"Good night," she said, a little awkwardly, but not unkindly.

Anne's white face and big eyes appeared over the bedclothes
with a startling suddenness.

"How can you call it a GOOD night when you know it must be
the very worst night I've ever had?" she said reproachfully.

Then she dived down into invisibility again.

Marilla went slowly down to the kitchen and proceeded to
wash the supper dishes.  Matthew was smoking--a sure sign of
perturbation of mind.  He seldom smoked, for Marilla set her
face against it as a filthy habit; but at certain times and
seasons he felt driven to it and them Marilla winked at the
practice, realizing that a mere man must have some vent for
his emotions.

"Well, this is a pretty kettle of fish," she said
wrathfully.  "This is what comes of sending word instead of
going ourselves.  Richard Spencer's folks have twisted that
message somehow.  One of us will have to drive over and see
Mrs. Spencer tomorrow, that's certain.  This girl will have
to be sent back to the asylum."

"Yes, I suppose so," said Matthew reluctantly.

"You SUPPOSE so!  Don't you know it?"

"Well now, she's a real nice little thing, Marilla.  It's kind of
a pity to send her back when she's so set on staying here."

"Matthew Cuthbert, you don't mean to say you think we ought
to keep her!"

Marilla's astonishment could not have been greater if Matthew had
expressed a predilection for standing on his head.

"Well, now, no, I suppose not--not exactly," stammered Matthew,
uncomfortably driven into a corner for his precise meaning.
"I suppose--we could hardly be expected to keep her."

"I should say not.  What good would she be to us?"

"We might be some good to her," said Matthew suddenly and
unexpectedly.

"Matthew Cuthbert, I believe that child has bewitched you!
I can see as plain as plain that you want to keep her."

"Well now, she's a real interesting little thing," persisted
Matthew.  "You should have heard her talk coming from the
station."

"Oh, she can talk fast enough.  I saw that at once.  It's
nothing in her favour, either.  I don't like children who
have so much to say.  I don't want an orphan girl and if I
did she isn't the style I'd pick out.  There's something I
don't understand about her.  No, she's got to be despatched
straight-way back to where she came from."

"I could hire a French boy to help me," said Matthew, "and
she'd be company for you."

"I'm not suffering for company," said Marilla shortly.  "And
I'm not going to keep her."

"Well now, it's just as you say, of course, Marilla," said
Matthew rising and putting his pipe away.  "I'm going to bed."

To bed went Matthew.  And to bed, when she had put her
dishes away, went Marilla, frowning most resolutely.  And
up-stairs, in the east gable, a lonely, heart-hungry,
friendless child cried herself to sleep.

Lucy Maud Montgomery