Written by Lucy Maud Montgomery.
And now, this crisp September morning, Anne and Diana were tripping blithely down the Birch Path, two of the happiest little girls in Avonlea.
“I guess Gilbert Blythe will be in school to-day,” said Diana. “He’s been visiting his cousins over in New Brunswick all summer and he only came home Saturday night. He’s awfully handsome, Anne. And he teases the girls something terrible. He just torments our lives out.”
Diana’s voice indicated that she rather liked having her life tormented out.
“Gilbert Blythe?” said Anne. “Isn’t it his name that’s written up on the porch wall with Julia Bell’s and a big ‘Take Notice’ over them?”
“Yes,” said Diana, tossing her head, “but I’m sure he doesn’t like Julia Bell so very much. I’ve heard him say he studied the multiplication table by her freckles.”
“Oh, don’t speak about freckles to me,” implored Anne. “It isn’t delicate when I’ve got so many. But I do think that writing take-notices up on the wall about the boys and girls is the silliest ever. I should just like to see anybody dare to write my name up with a boy’s. Not, of course,” she hastened to add, “that anybody would.”
Anne sighed. She didn’t want her name written up. But it was a little humiliating to know that there was no danger of it.
“Nonsense,” said Diana, whose black eyes and glossy tresses had played such havoc with the hearts of the Avonlea schoolboys that her name figured on the porch walls in half a dozen take-notices. “It’s only meant as a joke. And don’t you be too sure your name won’t ever be written up. Charlie Sloane is dead gone on you. He told his mother—his mother, mind you—that you were the smartest girl in school. That’s better than being good-looking.”
“No, it isn’t,” said Anne, feminine to the core. “I’d rather be pretty than clever. And I hate Charlie Sloane. I can’t bear a boy with goggle eyes. If any one wrote my name up with his I’d never get over it, Diana Barry. But it is nice to be head of your class.”
“You’ll have Gilbert in your class after this,” said Diana, “and he’s used to being head of his class, I can tell you. He’s only in the fourth book although he’s nearly fourteen. Four years ago his father was sick and had to go out to Alberta for his health and Gilbert went with him. They were there three years and Gil didn’t go to school hardly any until they came back. You won’t find it so easy to keep at the head after this, Anne.”
“I’m glad,” said Anne quickly. “I couldn’t really feel proud of keeping ahead of little boys and girls of just nine or ten.
When Mr. Phillips was in the back of the room hearing Prissy Andrews’ Latin Diana whispered to Anne,
“That’s Gilbert Blythe sitting right across the aisle from you, Anne. Just look at him and see if you don’t think he’s handsome.”
Anne looked accordingly. She had a good chance to do so, for the said Gilbert Blythe was absorbed in stealthily pinning the long yellow braid of Ruby Gillis, who sat in front of him, to the back of her seat. He was a tall boy, with curly brown hair, roguish hazel eyes and a mouth twisted into a teasing smile. Presently Ruby Gillis started up to take a sum to the master; she fell back into her seat with a little shriek, believing that her hair was pulled out by the roots. Everybody looked at her and Mr. Phillips glared so sternly that Ruby began to cry. Gilbert had whisked the pin out of sight and was studying his history with the most serious face in the world; but when the commotion subsided he looked at Anne and winked with inexpressible drollery.
“I think your Gilbert Blythe is handsome,” confided Anne to Diana, “but I think he’s very bold. It isn’t good manners to wink at a strange girl.”
But it was not until the afternoon that things really began to happen.
Gilbert Blythe was trying to make Anne Shirley look at him and failing utterly, because Anne was at that moment totally oblivious, not only of the very existence of Gilbert Blythe, but of every other student in Avonlea school and of Avonlea school itself. With her chin propped on her hands and her eyes fixed on the blue glimpse of the Lake of Shining Waters that the west window afforded, she was far away in a gorgeous dreamland, hearing and seeing nothing save her own wonderful visions.
Gilbert Blythe wasn’t used to putting himself out to make a girl look at him and meeting with failure. She should look at him, that red-haired Shirley girl with the little pointed chin and the big eyes that weren’t like the eyes of any other girl in Avonlea school.
Gilbert reached across the aisle, picked up the end of Anne’s long red braid, held it out at arm’s length and said in a piercing whisper,
Then Anne looked at him with a vengeance!
She did more than look. She sprang to her feet, her bright fancies fallen into cureless ruin. She flashed one indignant glance at Gilbert from eyes whose angry sparkle was swiftly quenched in equally angry tears.
“You mean, hateful boy!” she exclaimed passionately. “How dare you!”
And then—Thwack! Anne had brought her slate down on Gilbert’s head and cracked it—slate, not head—clear across.
Mr. Phillips stalked down the aisle and laid his hand heavily on Anne’s shoulder.
“Anne Shirley, what does this mean?” he said angrily.
Anne returned no answer. It was asking too much of flesh and blood to expect her to tell before the whole school that she had been called “carrots.” Gilbert it was who spoke up stoutly.
“It was my fault, Mr. Phillips. I teased her.”
Mr. Phillips paid no heed to Gilbert.
“I am sorry to see a pupil of mine displaying such a temper and such a vindictive spirit,” he said in a serious tone, as if the mere fact of being a pupil of his ought to root out all evil passions from the hearts of small imperfect mortals. “Anne, go and stand on the platform in front of the blackboard for the rest of the afternoon.”
As for Gilbert Blythe, she would not even look at him. She would never look at him again! She would never speak to him!!
When school was dismissed Anne marched out with her red head held high. Gilbert Blythe tried to intercept her at the porch door.
“I’m awful sorry I made fun of your hair, Anne,” he whispered contritely. “Honest I am. Don’t be mad for keeps, now.”
Anne swept by disdainfully, without look or sign of hearing. “Oh, how could you, Anne?” breathed Diana as they went down the road, half reproachfully, half admiringly. Diana felt that she could never have resisted Gilbert’s plea.
“I shall never forgive Gilbert Blythe,” said Anne firmly.
“You mustn’t mind Gilbert making fun of your hair,” she said soothingly. “Why, he makes fun of all the girls. He laughs at mine because it’s so black. He’s called me a crow a dozen times; and I never heard him apologize for anything before, either.”
“There’s a great deal of difference between being called a crow and being called carrots,” said Anne with dignity. “Gilbert Blythe has hurt my feelings excruciatingly, Diana.”
On the following day Mr. Phillips was seized with one of his spasmodic fits of reform and announced, before going home to lunch, that he should expect to find all the scholars in their seats when he returned. Anyone who came in late would be punished.
All the boys and some of the girls went to Mr. Bell’s spruce grove as usual, fully intending to stay only long enough to “pick a chew.” But spruce groves are tempting and yellow nuts of gum beguiling; they picked and loitered and strayed; and as usual the first thing that recalled them to a sense of the flight of time was Jimmy Glover shouting from the top of a the old spruce, “Master’s coming.”
The girls, who were on the ground, started first and managed to reach the schoolhouse in time but without a second to spare. The boys, who had to wriggle hastily down from the trees, were later; and Anne, who had not been picking gum at all but was wandering happily in the far end of the grove, waist deep among the bracken, singing softly to herself, with a wreath of rice lilies on her hair as if she were some wild divinity of the shadowy places, was latest of all. Anne could run like a deer, however; run she did with the impish result that she overtook the boys at the door and was swept into the schoolhouse among them just as Mr. Phillips was in the act of hanging up his hat.
Mr. Phillips’ brief reforming energy was over; he didn’t want the bother of punishing a dozen students; but it was necessary to do something to save his word, so he looked about for a scapegoat and found it in Anne, who had dropped into her seat, gasping for breath, with her forgotten lily wreath hanging askew over one ear and giving her a particularly rakish and dishevelled appearance.
“Anne Shirley, since you seem to be so fond of the boys’ company we shall indulge your taste for it this afternoon,” he said sarcastically. “Take those flowers out of your hair and sit with Gilbert Blythe.”
The other boys snickered. Diana, turning pale with pity, plucked the wreath from Anne’s hair and squeezed her hand. Anne stared at the master as if turned to stone.
“Did you hear what I said, Anne?” asked Mr. Phillips sternly.
“Yes, sir,” said Anne slowly, “but I didn’t suppose you really meant it.”
“I assure you I did,”—still with the sarcastic inflection which all the children, and Anne especially, hated. It flicked on the raw. “Obey me at once.”
For a moment Anne looked as if she meant to disobey. Then, realizing that there was no help for it, she rose haughtily, stepped across the aisle, sat down beside Gilbert Blythe, and buried her face in her arms on the desk.
To Anne, this was as the end of all things. It was bad enough to be singled out for punishment from among a dozen equally guilty ones; it was worse still to be sent to sit with a boy; but that that boy should be Gilbert Blythe was heaping insult on injury to a degree utterly unbearable. Anne felt that she could not bear it and it would be of no use to try. Her whole being seethed with shame and anger and humiliation.
When school went out Anne marched to her desk, took everything from out, books and writing tablet, pen and ink, testament and arithmetic, and piled them neatly on her cracked slate.
“What are you taking all those things home for, Anne?” Diana wanted to know, as soon as they were out on the road. She had not dared to ask the question before.
“I am not coming back to school any more,” said Anne.
Diana gasped and stared at Anne to see if she meant it.
“Will Marilla let you stay home?” she asked.
“She’ll have to,” said Anne. “I’ll never go to school to that man again.”