Marilla spends some quality time with Anne and hears her backstory.
“My life is a perfect graveyard of buried hopes. That’s a sentence I read in a book once, and I say it over to comfort myself whenever I’m disappointed in anything.”
“I don’t see where the comforting comes in myself,” said Marilla.
“Why, because it sounds so nice and romantic, just as if I were a heroine in a book, you know.”
This hints at what few tangible joys Anne has actually known in life – it seems that her vivid imagination is basically the only reason she’s kept on living and hoping for something better.
Marilla asks Anne to talk about her actual life, and though she insists that her imaginings are much more interesting, she grudgingly obliges. Her parents died from the same illness when she was a baby, and since she had no relatives in the vicinity, she was brought up by a woman who apparently worked for her parents, until her husband died under suspicious circumstances. Her family moved in with their grandmother, but poor Anne wasn’t wanted there, so she ended up with a woman who had the misfortune of three pairs of twins, which Anne was tasked with caring for. When her husband died, she divvied up her children among her relatives, and Anne was consigned to the orphan asylum.
“Were these women – Mrs. Thomas and Mrs. Hammond – good to you?” asked Marilla, looking at Anne out of the corner of her eye.
“O-o-o-h,” faltered Anne. Her sensitive little face suddenly flushed scarlet and embarrassment sat on her brow. “Oh, they meant to be – I know they meant to be just as good and kind as possible. And when people mean to be good to you, you don’t mind very much when they’re not quite – always. They had a good deal to worry them, you know. It’s very trying to have a drunken husband, you see; and it must very trying to have twins three times in succession, don’t you think? But I feel sure they meant to be good to me.”
Between the uncertainty of her situation and the fact that she was literally tasked with caring for younger children, Anne was forced to grow up far too quickly – she’s only eleven! And it goes to show just how far she had to stretch her imagination, empathizing with these women who never saw her as their own child, but a convenient source of childcare.
What a starved, unloved life she had – a life of drudgery and poverty and neglect; for Marilla shrewd enough to read between the lines of Anne’s history and divine the truth. No wonder she had been so delighted at the prospect of a real home. It was a pity she had to be sent back. What if she, Marilla, should indulge Matthew’s unaccountable whim and let her stay? He was set in it; and the child seemed a nice, teachable little thing.
Next time: Marilla makes up her mind…