“I suppose you are Mr. Matthew Cuthbert of Green Gables?” she said in a peculiarly clear, sweet voice. “I’m very glad to see you. I was beginning to be afraid you weren’t coming for me and I was imagining all the things that might have happened to prevent you. I had made up my mind that if you didn’t come for me tonight I’d go down the track to that big wild cherry-tree at the bend, and climb up into it to stay all night. I wouldn’t be a bit afraid, and it would be lovely to sleep in a wild cherry-tree all white with blooms in the moonshine, don’t you think? Could imagine you were dwelling in marble halls, couldn’t you? And I was quite sure you would come for me in the morning, if you didn’t tonight.”
Matthew had taken the scrawny little hand awkwardly in his; then and there he decided what to do. He could not tell this child with the glowing eyes that there had been a mistake; he would take her home and let Marilla do that. She couldn’t be left at Bright River anyhow, no matter what mistake had been made, so all questions and explanations might as well be deferred until he was safely back at Green Gables.
“I’m sorry I was late,” he said shyly. “Come along. The horse is over in the yard. Give me your bag.”
“Oh, I can carry it,” the child responded cheerfully. “It isn’t heavy. I’ve got all my worldly goods in it, but it isn’t heavy. And if it isn’t carried in just a certain way the handle pulls out—so I’d better keep it because I know the exact knack of it. It’s an extremely old carpet-bag. Oh, I’m very glad you’ve come, even if it would have been nice to sleep in a wild cherry-tree. We’ve got a long drive ahead of us, don’t we? Mrs. Spencer said it was eight miles. I’m glad because I love driving. Oh, it seems so wonderful that I’m going to live with you and belong to you. I’ve never belonged to anybody—not really. …..
With this Matthew’s companion stopped talking, partly because she was out of breath and partly because they had reached the buggy. Not another word did she say until they had left the village and were driving down a steep little hill, the road part of which had been cut so deeply into the soft soil that the banks, fringed with blooming wild cherry-trees and slim white branches, were several feet above their heads.
The child put out her hand and broke off a branch of wild plum that brushed against the side of the buggy.
“Isn’t that beautiful? What did that tree, leaning out from the bank, all white and lacy, make you think of?” she asked.
“Well now, I dunno,” said Matthew.
“Why, a bride, of course—a bride all in white with a lovely misty veil. I’ve never seen one, but I can imagine what she would look like. I don’t ever expect to be a bride myself. I’m so homely nobody will ever want to marry me. But I do hope that someday I shall have a white dress. That is my highest ideal of earthly bliss. I just love pretty clothes. And I’ve never had a pretty dress in my life that I can remember—but of course it’s all the more to look forward to, isn’t it? And then I can imagine that I’m dressed gorgeously.
I wasn’t a bit sick coming over on the boat. Neither was Mrs. Spencer, although she generally is. She said she hadn’t had time to get sick, watching to see that I didn’t fall overboard. She said she never saw the beat of me for prowling about. But if it kept her from getting seasick it’s a mercy I did prowl, isn’t it? And I wanted to see everything, everything that was on that boat, because I didn’t know whether I’d ever have another opportunity. Oh, there are a lot more cherry-trees all in bloom! This Island is the bloomiest place. I just love it already, and I’m so glad I’m going to live here. I’ve always heard that Prince Edward Island was the prettiest place in the world, and I used to imagine I was living here, but I never really expected I would. It’s delightful when your imaginations come true, isn’t it? But those red roads are so funny. When we got into the train at Charlottetown and the red roads began to flash past I asked Mrs. Spencer what made them red and she said she didn’t know and for pity’s sake not to ask her any more questions. She said I must have asked her a thousand already. I suppose I had, too, but how are you going to find out about things if you don’t ask questions? And what does make the roads red?”
“Well now, I dunno,” said Matthew.
“Well, that is one of the things to find out sometime. Isn’t it splendid to think of all the things there are to find out about? It just makes me feel glad to be alive—it’s such an interesting world. It wouldn’t be half so interesting if we knew all about everything, would it? There’d be no scope for imagination then, would there? But am I talking too much? People always tell me I do. Would you rather I didn’t talk? If you say so I’ll stop. I can stop when I make up my mind to it, although it’s difficult.”
Matthew, much to his own surprise, was enjoying himself. Like most quiet folks he liked talkative people when they were willing to do the talking themselves and did not expect him to keep up his end of it. But he had never expected to enjoy the company of a little girl. Women were bad enough in all conscience, but little girls were worse. He didn’t like the way they had of sneaking past him timidly, with side-wise glances, as if they expected him to gobble them up at a mouthful if they ventured to say a word. This was the Avonlea type of well-bred little girl. But this freckled girl was very different, and although he found it rather difficult for his slower intelligence to keep up with her brisk mental processes he thought that he “kind of liked her chatter.” So he said as shyly as usual:
“Oh, you can talk as much as you like. I don’t mind.”
“Oh, I’m so glad. I know you and I are going to get along together fine. It’s such a relief to talk when one wants to and not be told that children should be seen and not heard. I’ve had that said to me a million times if I had once. And people laugh at me because I use big words. But if you have big ideas you have to use big words to express them, haven’t you?”
“Well now, that seems reasonable,” said Matthew.
“Dreams don’t often come true, do they? Wouldn’t it be nice if they did? But just now I feel pretty nearly perfectly happy. I can’t feel exactly perfectly happy because—well, what color would you call this?”
She twitched one of her long glossy braids over her thin shoulder and held it up before Matthew’s eyes. Matthew was not used to deciding on the tints of ladies’ tresses, but in this case there couldn’t be much doubt.
“It’s red, ain’t it?” he said.
The girl let the braid drop back with a sigh that seemed to come from her toes and to exhale forth all the sorrows of the ages.
“Yes, it’s red,” she said sadly. “Now you can see why I can’t be perfectly happy. Nobody could who had red hair. I don’t mind the other things so much—the freckles and the green eyes and my skinniness. I can imagine them away. I can imagine that I have a beautiful rose-leaf complexion and lovely starry violet eyes. But I cannot imagine that red hair away.
Oh, Mr. Cuthbert! Oh, Mr. Cuthbert!! Oh, Mr. Cuthbert!!!”
They had rounded a curve in the road and found themselves in the “Avenue.”
The “Avenue,” so called by the Newbridge people, was a stretch of road four or five hundred yards long, completely arched over with huge, wide-spreading apple-trees, planted years ago by an eccentric old farmer. Overhead was one long canopy of snowy fragrant bloom. Below the boughs the air was full of a purple twilight and far ahead a glimpse of painted sunset sky shone like a great rose window at the end of a cathedral aisle.
Its beauty seemed to strike the child. She leaned back in the buggy, her thin hands clasped before her, her face lifted rapturously to the white splendor above. Even when they had passed out and were driving down the long slope to Newbridge she never moved or spoke. Still with rapt face she gazed afar into the sunset west, with eyes that saw visions trooping splendidly across that glowing background. Through Newbridge, a bustling little village where dogs barked at them and small boys hooted and curious faces peered from the windows, they drove, still in silence. When three more miles had dropped away behind them the child had not spoken. She could keep silence, it was evident, as energetically as she could talk.
“I guess you’re feeling pretty tired and hungry,” Matthew ventured at last, accounting for her long visitation of quietness with the only reason he could think of. “But we haven’t very far to go now—only another mile.”
She came out of her reverie with a deep sigh and looked at him with the dreamy gaze of a soul that had been wandering afar, star-led.
“Oh, Mr. Cuthbert,” she whispered, “that place we came through—that white place—what was it?”
“Well now, you must mean the Avenue,” said Matthew after a few moments’ profound reflection. “It is a kind of pretty place.”
“Pretty? Oh, pretty doesn’t seem the right word to use. Nor beautiful, either. They don’t go far enough. Oh, it was wonderful—wonderful. It’s the first thing I ever saw that couldn’t be improved upon by imagination. It just satisfied me here”—she put one hand on her chest—
When they had driven up the further hill and around a corner Matthew said:
“We’re pretty near home now. That’s Green Gables over—”
“Oh, don’t tell me,” she interrupted breathlessly, catching at his partially raised arm and shutting her eyes that she might not see his gesture. “Let me guess. I’m sure I’ll guess right.”
She opened her eyes and looked about her. They were on the crest of a hill. The sun had set some time since, but the landscape was still clear in the mellow afterlight. To the west a dark church spire rose up against a marigold sky. Below was a little valley and beyond a long, gently-rising slope with snug farmsteads scattered along it. From one to another the child’s eyes darted, eager and wistful. At last they lingered on one away to the left, far back from the road, dimly white with blossoming trees in the twilight of the surrounding woods. Over it, in the stainless southwest sky, a great crystal-white star was shining like a lamp of guidance and promise.
“That’s it, isn’t it?” she said, pointing.
Matthew slapped the reins on the sorrel’s back delightedly.
“Well now, you’ve guessed it! But I reckon Mrs. Spencer described it so’s you could tell.”
“No, she didn’t—really she didn’t. All she said might just as well have been about most of those other places. I hadn’t any real idea what it looked like. But just as soon as I saw it I felt it was home. Oh, it seems as if I must be in a dream. Do you know, my arm must be black and blue from the elbow up, for I’ve pinched myself so many times to-day. Every little while a horrible sickening feeling would come over me and I’d be so afraid it was all a dream. Then I’d pinch myself to see if it was real—until suddenly I remembered that even supposing it was only a dream I’d better go on dreaming as long as I could; so I stopped pinching. But it is real and we’re nearly home.”