The first scene of the story opens on Mrs. Rachel Lynde, a housewife in the town of Avonlea who everyone knows…and who knows everyone.
We're told that Mrs. Rachel Lynde is kind of the ultimate gossip. Her kitchen window looks out onto the only main road in the town of Avonlea, so she sees everyone who enters or leaves the town.
Quick geography note: Avonlea is a made-up farming town on Prince Edward Island, which is off the coast of Nova Scotia, Canada (for you American Shmoopers, that's north of Maine).
Suddenly, Rachel sees Matthew Cuthbert travelling town the road.
Rachel Lynde analyzes every detail, Sherlock Holmes-style. Matthew's wearing a suit, which means he's leaving town, and he's travelling via buggy and sorrel mare (a horse and carriage), which means he'll be travelling far.
She knew Matthew should be sowing his turnip seed because she heard him tell a store clerk that yesterday. Scandal-a-lous.
(We can already tell that not too much happens in Avonlea and people really like their routines.)
Rachel decides to visit Matthew's sister Marilla at her house, Green Gables, to investigate.
Marilla and Matthew live in an orchard house that's set far back from the road, near the woods. As she walks there, Rachel Lynde thinks that it's no wonder Matthew and Marilla are both a little odd—they see way more trees than they do people.
Marilla Cuthbert takes Rachel into the kitchen, and Rachel keeps on sleuthing. She notices that there are three plates on the table but "every-day dishes" (1.11) and only one kind of cake, so the company they're expecting can't be too fancy.
Marilla tells Rachel Lynde that Matthew went to pick up a little boy from an orphan asylum in Nova Scotia (the mainland).
Cue the chapter title: Mrs. Rachel Lynde is surprised.
Like, really surprised. Shocked.
Marilla calmly explains that they've been thinking about this all winter, and that Matthew's getting older and needs help with the farm. A woman named Mrs. Alexander Spencer is picking up a girl from the orphanage and they asked her to bring back a boy for them, who Matthew will meet at the train station.
Rachel Lynde goes all worst-case scenario and cites stories from the news about adopted orphans killing their new families. She reminds Marilla that they're bringing a strange boy into their house they know nothing about.
Marilla points out that there are always risks with having a child, naturally or adopted.
Rachel leaves to spread the gossip all over town, thinking about how sorry she feels for the orphan, since Marilla and Matthew are old, set in their ways, and don't know a thing about children.