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The Secret Garden Chapter 11
Dickon reveals how Mary is like a Missel Thrush, and how the Secret garden of Missel Thrush Mannor is like a nest.
Read by Natasha.
THE NEST OF THE MISSEL THRUSH
For two or three minutes he stood looking round him, while Mary watched
him, and then he began to walk about softly, even more lightly than
Mary had walked the first time she had found herself inside the four
walls. His eyes seemed to be taking in everything–the gray trees with
the gray creepers climbing over them and hanging from their branches,
the tangle on the walls and among the grass, the evergreen alcoves with
the stone seats and tall flower urns standing in them.
“I never thought I’d see this place,” he said at last, in a whisper.
“Did you know about it?” asked Mary.
She had spoken aloud and he made a sign to her.
“We must talk low,” he said, “or some one’ll hear us an’ wonder what’s
to do in here.”
“Oh! I forgot!” said Mary, feeling frightened and putting her hand
quickly against her mouth. “Did you know about the garden?” she asked
again when she had recovered herself. Dickon nodded.
“Martha told me there was one as no one ever went inside,” he answered.
“Us used to wonder what it was like.”
He stopped and looked round at the lovely gray tangle about him, and
his round eyes looked queerly happy.
“Eh! the nests as’ll be here come springtime,” he said. “It’d be th’
safest nestin’ place in England. No one never comin’ near an’ tangles
o’ trees an’ roses to build in. I wonder all th’ birds on th’ moor
don’t build here.”
Mistress Mary put her hand on his arm again without knowing it.
“Will there be roses?” she whispered. “Can you tell? I thought perhaps
they were all dead.”
“Eh! No! Not them–not all of ‘em!” he answered. “Look here!”
He stepped over to the nearest tree–an old, old one with gray lichen
all over its bark, but upholding a curtain of tangled sprays and
branches. He took a thick knife out of his Pocket and opened one of
“There’s lots o’ dead wood as ought to be cut out,” he said. “An’
there’s a lot o’ old wood, but it made some new last year. This here’s
a new bit,” and he touched a shoot which looked brownish green instead
of hard, dry gray. Mary touched it herself in an eager, reverent way.
“That one?” she said. “Is that one quite alive quite?”
Dickon curved his wide smiling mouth.
“It’s as wick as you or me,” he said; and Mary remembered that Martha
had told her that “wick” meant “alive” or “lively.”
“I’m glad it’s wick!” she cried out in her whisper. “I want them all
to be wick. Let us go round the garden and count how many wick ones
She quite panted with eagerness, and Dickon was as eager as she was.
They went from tree to tree and from bush to bush. Dickon carried his
knife in his hand and showed her things which she thought wonderful.
“They’ve run wild,” he said, “but th’ strongest ones has fair thrived
on it. The delicatest ones has died out, but th’ others has growed an’
growed, an’ spread an’ spread, till they’s a wonder. See here!” and he
pulled down a thick gray, dry-looking branch. “A body might think this
was dead wood, but I don’t believe it is–down to th’ root. I’ll cut
it low down an’ see.”
He knelt and with his knife cut the lifeless-looking branch through,
not far above the earth.
“There!” he said exultantly. “I told thee so. There’s green in that
wood yet. Look at it.”
Mary was down on her knees before he spoke, gazing with all her might.
“When it looks a bit greenish an’ juicy like that, it’s wick,” he
explained. “When th’ inside is dry an’ breaks easy, like this here
piece I’ve cut off, it’s done for. There’s a big root here as all this
live wood sprung out of, an’ if th’ old wood’s cut off an’ it’s dug
round, and took care of there’ll be–” he stopped and lifted his face
to look up at the climbing and hanging sprays above him–”there’ll be a
fountain o’ roses here this summer.”
They went from bush to bush and from tree to tree. He was very strong
and clever with his knife and knew how to cut the dry and dead wood
away, and could tell when an unpromising bough or twig had still green
life in it. In the course of half an hour Mary thought she could tell
too, and when he cut through a lifeless-looking branch she would cry
out joyfully under her breath when she caught sight of the least shade
of moist green. The spade, and hoe, and fork were very useful. He
showed her how to use the fork while he dug about roots with the spade
and stirred the earth and let the air in.
They were working industriously round one of the biggest standard roses
when he caught sight of something which made him utter an exclamation
“Why!” he cried, pointing to the grass a few feet away. “Who did that
It was one of Mary’s own little clearings round the pale green points.
“I did it,” said Mary.
“Why, I thought tha’ didn’t know nothin’ about gardenin’,” he exclaimed.
“I don’t,” she answered, “but they were so little, and the grass was so
thick and strong, and they looked as if they had no room to breathe.
So I made a place for them. I don’t even know what they are.”
Dickon went and knelt down by them, smiling his wide smile.
“Tha’ was right,” he said. “A gardener couldn’t have told thee better.
They’ll grow now like Jack’s bean-stalk. They’re crocuses an’
snowdrops, an’ these here is narcissuses,” turning to another patch,
“an here’s daffydowndillys. Eh! they will be a sight.”
He ran from one clearing to another.
“Tha’ has done a lot o’ work for such a little wench,” he said, looking
“I’m growing fatter,” said Mary, “and I’m growing stronger. I used
always to be tired. When I dig I’m not tired at all. I like to smell
the earth when it’s turned up.”
“It’s rare good for thee,” he said, nodding his head wisely. “There’s
naught as nice as th’ smell o’ good clean earth, except th’ smell o’
fresh growin’ things when th’ rain falls on ‘em. I get out on th’ moor
many a day when it’s rainin’ an’ I lie under a bush an’ listen to th’
soft swish o’ drops on th’ heather an’ I just sniff an’ sniff. My nose
end fair quivers like a rabbit’s, mother says.”
“Do you never catch cold?” inquired Mary, gazing at him wonderingly.
She had never seen such a funny boy, or such a nice one.
“Not me,” he said, grinning. “I never ketched cold since I was born.
I wasn’t brought up nesh enough. I’ve chased about th’ moor in all
weathers same as th’ rabbits does. Mother says I’ve sniffed up too
much fresh air for twelve year’ to ever get to sniffin’ with cold. I’m
as tough as a white-thorn knobstick.”
He was working all the time he was talking and Mary was following him
and helping him with her fork or the trowel.
“There’s a lot of work to do here!” he said once, looking about quite
“Will you come again and help me to do it?” Mary begged. “I’m sure I
can help, too. I can dig and pull up weeds, and do whatever you tell
me. Oh! do come, Dickon!”
“I’ll come every day if tha’ wants me, rain or shine,” he answered
stoutly. “It’s the best fun I ever had in my life–shut in here an’
wakenin’ up a garden.”
“If you will come,” said Mary, “if you will help me to make it alive
I’ll–I don’t know what I’ll do,” she ended helplessly. What could you
do for a boy like that?
“I’ll tell thee what tha’ll do,” said Dickon, with his happy grin.
“Tha’ll get fat an’ tha’ll get as hungry as a young fox an’ tha’ll
learn how to talk to th’ robin same as I do. Eh! we’ll have a lot o’
He began to walk about, looking up in the trees and at the walls and
bushes with a thoughtful expression.
“I wouldn’t want to make it look like a gardener’s garden, all clipped
an’ spick an’ span, would you?” he said. “It’s nicer like this with
things runnin’ wild, an’ swingin’ an’ catchin’ hold of each other.”
“Don’t let us make it tidy,” said Mary anxiously. “It wouldn’t seem
like a secret garden if it was tidy.”
Dickon stood rubbing his rusty-red head with a rather puzzled look.
“It’s a secret garden sure enough,” he said, “but seems like some one
besides th’ robin must have been in it since it was shut up ten year’
“But the door was locked and the key was buried,” said Mary. “No one
could get in.”
“That’s true,” he answered. “It’s a queer place. Seems to me as if
there’d been a bit o’ prunin’ done here an’ there, later than ten year’
“But how could it have been done?” said Mary.
He was examining a branch of a standard rose and he shook his head.
“Aye! how could it!” he murmured. “With th’ door locked an’ th’ key
Mistress Mary always felt that however many years she lived she should
never forget that first morning when her garden began to grow. Of
course, it did seem to begin to grow for her that morning. When Dickon
began to clear places to plant seeds, she remembered what Basil had
sung at her when he wanted to tease her.
“Are there any flowers that look like bells?” she inquired.
“Lilies o’ th’ valley does,” he answered, digging away with the trowel,
“an’ there’s Canterbury bells, an’ campanulas.”
“Let’s plant some,” said Mary. “There’s lilies o’ th, valley here
already; I saw ‘em. They’ll have growed too close an’ we’ll have to
separate ‘em, but there’s plenty. Th’ other ones takes two years to
bloom from seed, but I can bring you some bits o’ plants from our
cottage garden. Why does tha’ want ‘em?”
Then Mary told him about Basil and his brothers and sisters in India
and of how she had hated them and of their calling her “Mistress Mary
“They used to dance round and sing at me. They sang–
‘Mistress Mary, quite contrary,
How does your garden grow?
With silver bells, and cockle shells,
And marigolds all in a row.’
I just remembered it and it made me wonder if there were really flowers
like silver bells.”
She frowned a little and gave her trowel a rather spiteful dig into the
“I wasn’t as contrary as they were.”
But Dickon laughed.
“Eh!” he said, and as he crumbled the rich black soil she saw he was
sniffing up the scent of it. “There doesn’t seem to be no need for no
one to be contrary when there’s flowers an’ such like, an’ such lots o’
friendly wild things runnin’ about makin’ homes for themselves, or
buildin’ nests an’ singin’ an’ whistlin’, does there?”
Mary, kneeling by him holding the seeds, looked at him and stopped
“Dickon,” she said, “you are as nice as Martha said you were. I like
you, and you make the fifth person. I never thought I should like five
Dickon sat up on his heels as Martha did when she was polishing the
grate. He did look funny and delightful, Mary thought, with his round
blue eyes and red cheeks and happy looking turned-up nose.
“Only five folk as tha’ likes?” he said. “Who is th’ other four?”
“Your mother and Martha,” Mary checked them off on her fingers, “and
the robin and Ben Weatherstaff.”
Dickon laughed so that he was obliged to stifle the sound by putting
his arm over his mouth.
“I know tha’ thinks I’m a queer lad,” he said, “but I think tha’ art
th’ queerest little lass I ever saw.”
Then Mary did a strange thing. She leaned forward and asked him a
question she had never dreamed of asking any one before. And she tried
to ask it in Yorkshire because that was his language, and in India a
native was always pleased if you knew his speech.
“Does tha’ like me?” she said.
“Eh!” he answered heartily, “that I does. I likes thee wonderful, an’
so does th’ robin, I do believe!”
“That’s two, then,” said Mary. “That’s two for me.”
And then they began to work harder than ever and more joyfully. Mary
was startled and sorry when she heard the big clock in the courtyard
strike the hour of her midday dinner.
“I shall have to go,” she said mournfully. “And you will have to go
too, won’t you?”
“My dinner’s easy to carry about with me,” he said. “Mother always
lets me put a bit o’ somethin’ in my pocket.”
He picked up his coat from the grass and brought out of a pocket a
lumpy little bundle tied up in a quite clean, coarse, blue and white
handkerchief. It held two thick pieces of bread with a slice of
something laid between them.
“It’s oftenest naught but bread,” he said, “but I’ve got a fine slice
o’ fat bacon with it today.”
Mary thought it looked a queer dinner, but he seemed ready to enjoy it.
“Run on an’ get thy victuals,” he said. “I’ll be done with mine first.
I’ll get some more work done before I start back home.”
He sat down with his back against a tree.
“I’ll call th’ robin up,” he said, “and give him th’ rind o’ th’ bacon
to peck at. They likes a bit o’ fat wonderful.”
Mary could scarcely bear to leave him. Suddenly it seemed as if he
might be a sort of wood fairy who might be gone when she came into the
garden again. He seemed too good to be true. She went slowly half-way
to the door in the wall and then she stopped and went back.
“Whatever happens, you–you never would tell?” she said.
His poppy-colored cheeks were distended with his first big bite of
bread and bacon, but he managed to smile encouragingly.
“If tha’ was a missel thrush an’ showed me where thy nest was, does
tha’ think I’d tell any one? Not me,” he said. “Tha’ art as safe as a
And she was quite sure she was.