The Secret Garden Chapter 8

Secret Garden Robin

Mary is holding a key – could it be the key to the Secret Garden? And if so, where is the door? Maybe her friend the garden robin can help.

Read by Natasha.

THE ROBIN WHO SHOWED THE WAY

She looked at the key quite a long time. She turned it over and over,
and thought about it. As I have said before, she was not a child who
had been trained to ask permission or consult her elders about things.
All she thought about the key was that if it was the key to the closed
garden, and she could find out where the door was, she could perhaps
open it and see what was inside the walls, and what had happened to the
old rose-trees. It was because it had been shut up so long that she
wanted to see it. It seemed as if it must be different from other
places and that something strange must have happened to it during ten
years. Besides that, if she liked it she could go into it every day
and shut the door behind her, and she could make up some play of her
own and play it quite alone, because nobody would ever know where she
was, but would think the door was still locked and the key buried in
the earth. The thought of that pleased her very much.

Living as it were, all by herself in a house with a hundred
mysteriously closed rooms and having nothing whatever to do to amuse
herself, had set her inactive brain to working and was actually
awakening her imagination. There is no doubt that the fresh, strong,
pure air from the moor had a great deal to do with it. Just as it had
given her an appetite, and fighting with the wind had stirred her
blood, so the same things had stirred her mind. In India she had
always been too hot and languid and weak to care much about anything,
but in this place she was beginning to care and to want to do new
things. Already she felt less “contrary,” though she did not know why.

She put the key in her pocket and walked up and down her walk. No one
but herself ever seemed to come there, so she could walk slowly and
look at the wall, or, rather, at the ivy growing on it. The ivy was
the baffling thing. Howsoever carefully she looked she could see
nothing but thickly growing, glossy, dark green leaves. She was very
much disappointed. Something of her contrariness came back to her as
she paced the walk and looked over it at the tree-tops inside. It
seemed so silly, she said to herself, to be near it and not be able to
get in. She took the key in her pocket when she went back to the
house, and she made up her mind that she would always carry it with her
when she went out, so that if she ever should find the hidden door she
would be ready.

Mrs. Medlock had allowed Martha to sleep all night at the cottage, but
she was back at her work in the morning with cheeks redder than ever
and in the best of spirits.

“I got up at four o’clock,” she said. “Eh! it was pretty on th’ moor
with th’ birds gettin’ up an’ th’ rabbits scamperin’ about an’ th’ sun
risin’. I didn’t walk all th’ way. A man gave me a ride in his cart
an’ I did enjoy myself.”

She was full of stories of the delights of her day out. Her mother had
been glad to see her and they had got the baking and washing all out of
the way. She had even made each of the children a doughcake with a bit
of brown sugar in it.

“I had ‘em all pipin’ hot when they came in from playin’ on th’ moor.
An’ th’ cottage all smelt o’ nice, clean hot bakin’ an’ there was a
good fire, an’ they just shouted for joy. Our Dickon he said our
cottage was good enough for a king.”

In the evening they had all sat round the fire, and Martha and her
mother had sewed patches on torn clothes and mended stockings and
Martha had told them about the little girl who had come from India and
who had been waited on all her life by what Martha called “blacks”
until she didn’t know how to put on her own stockings.

“Eh! they did like to hear about you,” said Martha. “They wanted to
know all about th’ blacks an’ about th’ ship you came in. I couldn’t
tell ‘em enough.”

Mary reflected a little.

“I’ll tell you a great deal more before your next day out,” she said,
“so that you will have more to talk about. I dare say they would like
to hear about riding on elephants and camels, and about the officers
going to hunt tigers.”

“My word!” cried delighted Martha. “It would set ‘em clean off their
heads. Would tha’ really do that, Miss? It would be same as a wild
beast show like we heard they had in York once.”

“India is quite different from Yorkshire,” Mary said slowly, as she
thought the matter over. “I never thought of that. Did Dickon and
your mother like to hear you talk about me?”

“Why, our Dickon’s eyes nearly started out o’ his head, they got that
round,” answered Martha. “But mother, she was put out about your
seemin’ to be all by yourself like. She said, ‘Hasn’t Mr. Craven got
no governess for her, nor no nurse?’ and I said, ‘No, he hasn’t, though
Mrs. Medlock says he will when he thinks of it, but she says he mayn’t
think of it for two or three years.'”

“I don’t want a governess,” said Mary sharply.

“But mother says you ought to be learnin’ your book by this time an’
you ought to have a woman to look after you, an’ she says: ‘Now,
Martha, you just think how you’d feel yourself, in a big place like
that, wanderin’ about all alone, an’ no mother. You do your best to
cheer her up,’ she says, an’ I said I would.”

Mary gave her a long, steady look.

“You do cheer me up,” she said. “I like to hear you talk.”

Presently Martha went out of the room and came back with something held
in her hands under her apron.

“What does tha’ think,” she said, with a cheerful grin. “I’ve brought
thee a present.”

“A present!” exclaimed Mistress Mary. How could a cottage full of
fourteen hungry people give any one a present!

“A man was drivin’ across the moor peddlin’,” Martha explained. “An’
he stopped his cart at our door. He had pots an’ pans an’ odds an’
ends, but mother had no money to buy anythin’. Just as he was goin’
away our ‘Lizabeth Ellen called out, ‘Mother, he’s got skippin’-ropes
with red an’ blue handles.’ An’ mother she calls out quite sudden,
‘Here, stop, mister! How much are they?’ An’ he says ‘Tuppence’, an’
mother she began fumblin’ in her pocket an’ she says to me, ‘Martha,
tha’s brought me thy wages like a good lass, an’ I’ve got four places
to put every penny, but I’m just goin’ to take tuppence out of it to
buy that child a skippin’-rope,’ an’ she bought one an’ here it is.”

She brought it out from under her apron and exhibited it quite proudly.
It was a strong, slender rope with a striped red and blue handle at
each end, but Mary Lennox had never seen a skipping-rope before. She
gazed at it with a mystified expression.

“What is it for?” she asked curiously.

“For!” cried out Martha. “Does tha’ mean that they’ve not got
skippin’-ropes in India, for all they’ve got elephants and tigers and
camels! No wonder most of ‘em’s black. This is what it’s for; just
watch me.”

And she ran into the middle of the room and, taking a handle in each
hand, began to skip, and skip, and skip, while Mary turned in her chair
to stare at her, and the queer faces in the old portraits seemed to
stare at her, too, and wonder what on earth this common little cottager
had the impudence to be doing under their very noses. But Martha did
not even see them. The interest and curiosity in Mistress Mary’s face
delighted her, and she went on skipping and counted as she skipped
until she had reached a hundred.

“I could skip longer than that,” she said when she stopped. “I’ve
skipped as much as five hundred when I was twelve, but I wasn’t as fat
then as I am now, an’ I was in practice.”

Mary got up from her chair beginning to feel excited herself.

“It looks nice,” she said. “Your mother is a kind woman. Do you think
I could ever skip like that?”

“You just try it,” urged Martha, handing her the skipping-rope. “You
can’t skip a hundred at first, but if you practice you’ll mount up.
That’s what mother said. She says, ‘Nothin’ will do her more good than
skippin’ rope. It’s th’ sensiblest toy a child can have. Let her play
out in th’ fresh air skippin’ an’ it’ll stretch her legs an’ arms an’
give her some strength in ‘em.'”

It was plain that there was not a great deal of strength in Mistress
Mary’s arms and legs when she first began to skip. She was not very
clever at it, but she liked it so much that she did not want to stop.

“Put on tha’ things and run an’ skip out o’ doors,” said Martha.
“Mother said I must tell you to keep out o’ doors as much as you could,
even when it rains a bit, so as tha’ wrap up warm.”

Mary put on her coat and hat and took her skipping-rope over her arm.
She opened the door to go out, and then suddenly thought of something
and turned back rather slowly.

“Martha,” she said, “they were your wages. It was your two-pence
really. Thank you.” She said it stiffly because she was not used to
thanking people or noticing that they did things for her. “Thank you,”
she said, and held out her hand because she did not know what else to
do.

Martha gave her hand a clumsy little shake, as if she was not
accustomed to this sort of thing either. Then she laughed.

“Eh! th’ art a queer, old-womanish thing,” she said. “If tha’d been
our ‘Lizabeth Ellen tha’d have given me a kiss.”

Mary looked stiffer than ever.

“Do you want me to kiss you?”

Martha laughed again.

“Nay, not me,” she answered. “If tha’ was different, p’raps tha’d want
to thysel’. But tha’ isn’t. Run off outside an’ play with thy rope.”

Mistress Mary felt a little awkward as she went out of the room.
Yorkshire people seemed strange, and Martha was always rather a puzzle
to her. At first she had disliked her very much, but now she did not.
The skipping-rope was a wonderful thing. She counted and skipped, and
skipped and counted, until her cheeks were quite red, and she was more
interested than she had ever been since she was born. The sun was
shining and a little wind was blowing–not a rough wind, but one which
came in delightful little gusts and brought a fresh scent of newly
turned earth with it. She skipped round the fountain garden, and up
one walk and down another. She skipped at last into the kitchen-garden
and saw Ben Weatherstaff digging and talking to his robin, which was
hopping about him. She skipped down the walk toward him and he lifted
his head and looked at her with a curious expression. She had wondered
if he would notice her. She wanted him to see her skip.

“Well!” he exclaimed. “Upon my word. P’raps tha’ art a young ‘un,
after all, an’ p’raps tha’s got child’s blood in thy veins instead of
sour buttermilk. Tha’s skipped red into thy cheeks as sure as my
name’s Ben Weatherstaff. I wouldn’t have believed tha’ could do it.”

“I never skipped before,” Mary said. “I’m just beginning. I can only
go up to twenty.”

“Tha’ keep on,” said Ben. “Tha’ shapes well enough at it for a young
‘un that’s lived with heathen. Just see how he’s watchin’ thee,”
jerking his head toward the robin. “He followed after thee yesterday.
He’ll be at it again today. He’ll be bound to find out what th’
skippin’-rope is. He’s never seen one. Eh!” shaking his head at the
bird, “tha’ curiosity will be th’ death of thee sometime if tha’
doesn’t look sharp.”

Mary skipped round all the gardens and round the orchard, resting every
few minutes. At length she went to her own special walk and made up
her mind to try if she could skip the whole length of it. It was a
good long skip and she began slowly, but before she had gone half-way
down the path she was so hot and breathless that she was obliged to
stop. She did not mind much, because she had already counted up to
thirty. She stopped with a little laugh of pleasure, and there, lo and
behold, was the robin swaying on a long branch of ivy. He had followed
her and he greeted her with a chirp. As Mary had skipped toward him
she felt something heavy in her pocket strike against her at each jump,
and when she saw the robin she laughed again.

“You showed me where the key was yesterday,” she said. “You ought to
show me the door today; but I don’t believe you know!”

The robin flew from his swinging spray of ivy on to the top of the wall
and he opened his beak and sang a loud, lovely trill, merely to show
off. Nothing in the world is quite as adorably lovely as a robin when
he shows off–and they are nearly always doing it.

Mary Lennox had heard a great deal about Magic in her Ayah’s stories,
and she always said that what happened almost at that moment was Magic.

One of the nice little gusts of wind rushed down the walk, and it was a
stronger one than the rest. It was strong enough to wave the branches
of the trees, and it was more than strong enough to sway the trailing
sprays of untrimmed ivy hanging from the wall. Mary had stepped close
to the robin, and suddenly the gust of wind swung aside some loose ivy
trails, and more suddenly still she jumped toward it and caught it in
her hand. This she did because she had seen something under it–a
round knob which had been covered by the leaves hanging over it. It
was the knob of a door.

She put her hands under the leaves and began to pull and push them
aside. Thick as the ivy hung, it nearly all was a loose and swinging
curtain, though some had crept over wood and iron. Mary’s heart began
to thump and her hands to shake a little in her delight and excitement.
The robin kept singing and twittering away and tilting his head on one
side, as if he were as excited as she was. What was this under her
hands which was square and made of iron and which her fingers found a
hole in?

It was the lock of the door which had been closed ten years and she put
her hand in her pocket, drew out the key and found it fitted the
keyhole. She put the key in and turned it. It took two hands to do
it, but it did turn.

And then she took a long breath and looked behind her up the long walk
to see if any one was coming. No one was coming. No one ever did
come, it seemed, and she took another long breath, because she could
not help it, and she held back the swinging curtain of ivy and pushed
back the door which opened slowly–slowly.

Then she slipped through it, and shut it behind her, and stood with her
back against it, looking about her and breathing quite fast with
excitement, and wonder, and delight.

She was standing inside the secret garden.

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