“Matthew Cuthbert, who’s that?”
I’m reminded of the time my dad brought a kitten home. His excuse was, and I quote: “She looked at me and said Mew!”
“Where is the boy?”
“There wasn’t any boy,” said Matthew wretchedly. “There was only her.”
While Marilla and Matthew are arguing the fact that the orphan in front of them is a girl (and how that circumstance may have come about), the orphan herself parses out what’s going on.
“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.”
And then she bursts into tears, like you might expect a girl to when she’s been sent on an emotional roller coaster like that. Marilla tries, but she’s not all that helpful.
“Well, well, there’s no need to cry so about it.”
“Yes there is need!” The child raised her head quickly, revealing a tearstained 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.
Yeah, I’m with the orphan here. She has good reason to cry…even if she maybe plays plays it up mote than she needs to.
Once she’s calmed down a little, Marilla asks her name…but she even manages to make that that overly dramatic.
“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.”
I too have trouble with people misspelling my name (if for different reasons), so I can relate.
“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.”
This reflects the thinking they put into adopting a child: They essentially want cheap labor. It isn’t purely mercenary – after all, Matthew’s getting on in years, and they want to provide a stable home for the child, if not necessarily a loving one. But at the same time, you kind of get why orphans would get such a bad rap if they were only valued for their labor.
Then Anne attempts to eat her dinner.
“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 imagine you were in the depths of despair?”
This girl cannot properly appreciate Marilla’s dry wit and it is sad.
After Marilla awkwardly puts Anne to bed, she and Matthew have a chat about what to do with her.
“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!”
“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.
While Matthew concludes with “whatever you say”, he does open effectively open Marilla up to the possibility of taking, Anne in for her sake, as an act of compassion toward a “lonely, heart-hungry, friendless child.”
Until next time…