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Chapter VI


CHAPTER VI

Marilla Makes Up Her Mind


Get there they did, however, in due season.  Mrs. Spencer
lived in a big yellow house at White Sands Cove, and she
came to the door with surprise and welcome mingled on
her benevolent face.

"Dear, dear," she exclaimed, "you're the last folks I was
looking for today, but I'm real glad to see you.  You'll put
your horse in?  And how are you, Anne?"

"I'm as well as can be expected, thank you," said Anne
smilelessly.  A blight seemed to have descended on her.

"I suppose we'll stay a little while to rest the mare,"
said Marilla, "but I promised Matthew I'd be home early.
The fact is, Mrs. Spencer, there's been a queer mistake
somewhere, and I've come over to see where it is.  We
send word, Matthew and I, for you to bring us a boy from
the asylum.  We told your brother Robert to tell you we
wanted a boy ten or eleven years old."

"Marilla Cuthbert, you don't say so!" said Mrs. Spencer
in distress.  "Why, Robert sent word down by his
daughter Nancy and she said you wanted a girl--didn't
she Flora Jane?" appealing to her daughter who had come
out to the steps.

"She certainly did, Miss Cuthbert," corroborated Flora
Jane earnestly.

I'm dreadful sorry," said Mrs. Spencer.  "It's too bad;
but it certainly wasn't my fault, you see, Miss Cuthbert.
I did the best I could and I thought I was following your
instructions.  Nancy is a terrible flighty thing.  I've
often had to scold her well for her heedlessness."

"It was our own fault," said Marilla resignedly.  "We
should have come to you ourselves and not left an important
message to be passed along by word of mouth in that
fashion.  Anyhow, the mistake has been made and the only
thing to do is to set it right.  Can we send the child
back to the asylum?  I suppose they'll take her back,
won't they?"

"I suppose so," said Mrs. Spencer thoughtfully, "but I
don't think it will be necessary to send her back.  Mrs.
Peter Blewett was up here yesterday, and she was saying
to me how much she wished she'd sent by me for a little
girl to help her.  Mrs. Peter has a large family, you know,
and she finds it hard to get help.  Anne will be the very
girl for you.  I call it positively providential."

Marilla did not look as if she thought Providence had
much to do with the matter.  Here was an unexpectedly
good chance to get this unwelcome orphan off her hands,
and she did not even feel grateful for it.

She knew Mrs. Peter Blewett only by sight as a small,
shrewish-faced woman without an ounce of superfluous
flesh on her bones.  But she had heard of her.  "A terrible
worker and driver," Mrs. Peter was said to be; and discharged
servant girls told fearsome tales of her temper and stinginess,
and her family of pert, quarrelsome children.  Marilla felt a
qualm of conscience at the thought of handing Anne over to her
tender mercies.

"Well, I'll go in and we'll talk the matter over," she said.

"And if there isn't Mrs. Peter coming up the lane this
blessed minute!" exclaimed Mrs. Spencer, bustling her
guests through the hall into the parlor, where a deadly
chill struck on them as if the air had been strained so long
through dark green, closely drawn blinds that it had lost
every particle of warmth it had ever possessed.  "That is
real lucky, for we can settle the matter right away.  Take
the armchair, Miss Cuthbert.  Anne, you sit here on the
ottoman and don't wiggle.  Let me take your hats.  Flora
Jane, go out and put the kettle on.  Good afternoon, Mrs.
Blewett.  We were just saying how fortunate it was you
happened along.  Let me introduce you two ladies.  Mrs.
Blewett, Miss Cuthbert.  Please excuse me for just a moment.
I forgot to tell Flora Jane to take the buns out of the oven."

Mrs. Spencer whisked away, after pulling up the blinds.
Anne sitting mutely on the ottoman, with her hands
clasped tightly in her lap, stared at Mrs Blewett as one
fascinated.  Was she to be given into the keeping of this
sharp-faced, sharp-eyed woman?  She felt a lump coming up in
her throat and her eyes smarted painfully.  She was beginning
to be afraid she couldn't keep the tears back when Mrs. Spencer
returned, flushed and beaming, quite capable of taking any and
every difficulty, physical, mental or spiritual, into
consideration and settling it out of hand.

"It seems there's been a mistake about this little girl,
Mrs. Blewett," she said.  "I was under the impression that
Mr. and Miss Cuthbert wanted a little girl to adopt.  I was
certainly told so.  But it seems it was a boy they wanted.
So if you're still of the same mind you were yesterday, I
think she'll be just the thing for you."

Mrs. Blewett darted her eyes over Anne from head to foot.

"How old are you and what's your name?" she demanded.

"Anne Shirley," faltered the shrinking child, not daring
to make any stipulations regarding the spelling thereof,
"and I'm eleven years old."

"Humph! You don't look as if there was much to you.
But you're wiry.  I don't know but the wiry ones are the
best after all.  Well, if I take you you'll have to be a
good girl, you know--good and smart and respectful.  I'll
expect you to earn your keep, and no mistake about that.
Yes, I suppose I might as well take her off your hands, Miss
Cuthbert.  The baby's awful fractious, and I'm clean worn out
attending to him.  If you like I can take her right home now."

Marilla looked at Anne and softened at sight of the
child's pale face with its look of mute misery--the misery
of a helpless little creature who finds itself once more
caught in the trap from which it had escaped.  Marilla felt
an uncomfortable conviction that, if she denied the appeal
of that look, it would haunt her to her dying day.  More-
over, she did not fancy Mrs. Blewett.  To hand a sensitive,
"highstrung" child over to such a woman!  No, she could
not take the responsibility of doing that!

"Well, I don't know," she said slowly.  "I didn't say that
Matthew and I had absolutely decided that we wouldn't
keep her.  In fact I may say that Matthew is disposed to
keep her.  I just came over to find out how the mistake had
occurred.  I think I'd better take her home again and talk
it over with Matthew.  I feel that I oughtn't to decide on
anything without consulting him.  If we make up our mind
not to keep her we'll bring or send her over to you
tomorrow night.  If we don't you may know that she is
going to stay with us.  Will that suit you, Mrs. Blewett?"

"I suppose it'll have to," said Mrs. Blewett ungraciously.

During Marilla's speech a sunrise had been dawning on
Anne's face.  First the look of despair faded out; then came
a faint flush of hope; here eyes grew deep and bright as
morning stars.  The child was quite transfigured; and, a
moment later, when Mrs. Spencer and Mrs. Blewett went
out in quest of a recipe the latter had come to borrow she
sprang up and flew across the room to Marilla.

"Oh, Miss Cuthbert, did you really say that perhaps you would
let me stay at Green Gables?" she said, in a breathless whisper,
as if speaking aloud might shatter the glorious possibility.
"Did you really say it?  Or did I only imagine that you did?"

"I think you'd better learn to control that imagination of
yours, Anne, if you can't distinguish between what is real
and what isn't," said Marilla crossly.  "Yes, you did hear
me say just that and no more.  It isn't decided yet and
perhaps we will conclude to let Mrs. Blewett take you after
all.  She certainly needs you much more than I do."

"I'd rather go back to the asylum than go to live with her," said
Anne passionately.  "She looks exactly like a--like a gimlet."

Marilla smothered a smile under the conviction that Anne
must be reproved for such a speech.

"A little girl like you should be ashamed of talking so
about a lady and a stranger," she said severely.  "Go back
and sit down quietly and hold your tongue and behave as a
good girl should."

"I'll try to do and be anything you want me, if you'll
only keep me," said Anne, returning meekly to her ottoman.

When they arrived back at Green Gables that evening
Matthew met them in the lane.  Marilla from afar had noted
him prowling along it and guessed his motive.  She was
prepared for the relief she read in his face when he saw
that she had at least brought back Anne back with her.  But
she said nothing, to him, relative to the affair, until they
were both out in the yard behind the barn milking the
cows.  Then she briefly told him Anne's history and the
result of the interview with Mrs. Spencer.

"I wouldn't give a dog I liked to that Blewett woman,"
said Matthew with unusual vim."

"I don't fancy her style myself," admitted Marilla, "but
it's that or keeping her ourselves, Matthew.  And since
you seem to want her, I suppose I'm willing--or have to
be.  I've been thinking over the idea until I've got kind of
used to it.  It seems a sort of duty.  I've never brought up
a child, especially a girl, and I dare say I'll make a
terrible mess of it.  But I'll do my best.  So far as I'm
concerned, Matthew, she may stay."

Matthew's shy face was a glow of delight.

"Well now, I reckoned you'd come to see it in that light,
Marilla," he said.  "She's such an interesting little thing."

"It'd be more to the point if you could say she was a
useful little thing," retorted Marilla, "but I'll make it
my business to see she's trained to be that.  And mind,
Matthew, you're not to go interfering with my methods.
Perhaps an old maid doesn't know much about bringing up
a child, but I guess she knows more than an old bachelor.
So you just leave me to manage her.  When I fail it'll be
time enough to put your oar in."

"There, there, Marilla, you can have your own way," said
Matthew reassuringly.  "Only be as good and kind to her
as you can without spoiling her.  I kind of think she's
one of the sort you can do anything with if you only get
her to love you."

Marilla sniffed, to express her contempt for Matthew's
opinions concerning anything feminine, and walked off to
the dairy with the pails.

"I won't tell her tonight that she can stay," she reflected,
as she strained the milk into the creamers.  "She'd be so
excited that she wouldn't sleep a wink.  Marilla Cuthbert,
you're fairly in for it.  Did you ever suppose you'd see
the day when you'd be adopting an orphan girl?  It's
surprising enough; but not so surprising as that Matthew
should be at the bottom of it, him that always seemed
to have such a mortal dread of little girls.  Anyhow,
we've decided on the experiment and goodness only knows
what will come of it."

Lucy Maud Montgomery