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The Secret Garden Chapter 22

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secret garden evening primrose

Ben Weatherstaff reveals that he too has been keeping a secret.

Read by Natasha.


WHEN THE SUN WENT DOWN

When his head was out of sight Colin turned to Mary.

“Go and meet him,” he said; and Mary flew across the grass to the door
under the ivy.

Dickon was watching him with sharp eyes. There were scarlet spots on
his cheeks and he looked amazing, but he showed no signs of falling.

“I can stand,” he said, and his head was still held up and he said it
quite grandly.

“I told thee tha’ could as soon as tha’ stopped bein’ afraid,” answered
Dickon. “An’ tha’s stopped.”

“Yes, I’ve stopped,” said Colin.

Then suddenly he remembered something Mary had said.

“Are you making Magic?” he asked sharply.

Dickon’s curly mouth spread in a cheerful grin.

“Tha’s doin’ Magic thysel’,” he said. “It’s same Magic as made these
‘ere work out o’ th’ earth,” and he touched with his thick boot a clump
of crocuses in the grass. Colin looked down at them.

“Aye,” he said slowly, “there couldna’ be bigger Magic than that
there–there couldna’ be.”

He drew himself up straighter than ever.

“I’m going to walk to that tree,” he said, pointing to one a few feet
away from him. “I’m going to be standing when Weatherstaff comes here.
I can rest against the tree if I like. When I want to sit down I will
sit down, but not before. Bring a rug from the chair.”

He walked to the tree and though Dickon held his arm he was wonderfully
steady. When he stood against the tree trunk it was not too plain that
he supported himself against it, and he still held himself so straight
that he looked tall.

When Ben Weatherstaff came through the door in the wall he saw him
standing there and he heard Mary muttering something under her breath.

“What art sayin’?” he asked rather testily because he did not want his
attention distracted from the long thin straight boy figure and proud
face.

But she did not tell him. What she was saying was this:

“You can do it! You can do it! I told you you could! You can do it!
You can do it! You can!” She was saying it to Colin because she wanted
to make Magic and keep him on his feet looking like that. She could
not bear that he should give in before Ben Weatherstaff. He did not
give in. She was uplifted by a sudden feeling that he looked quite
beautiful in spite of his thinness. He fixed his eyes on Ben
Weatherstaff in his funny imperious way.

“Look at me!” he commanded. “Look at me all over! Am I a hunchback?
Have I got crooked legs?”

Ben Weatherstaff had not quite got over his emotion, but he had
recovered a little and answered almost in his usual way.

“Not tha’,” he said. “Nowt o’ th’ sort. What’s tha’ been doin’ with
thysel’–hidin’ out o’ sight an’ lettin’ folk think tha’ was cripple
an’ half-witted?”

“Half-witted!” said Colin angrily. “Who thought that?”

“Lots o’ fools,” said Ben. “Th’ world’s full o’ jackasses brayin’ an’
they never bray nowt but lies. What did tha’ shut thysel’ up for?”

“Everyone thought I was going to die,” said Colin shortly. “I’m not!”

And he said it with such decision Ben Weatherstaff looked him over, up
and down, down and up.

“Tha’ die!” he said with dry exultation. “Nowt o’ th’ sort! Tha’s got
too much pluck in thee. When I seed thee put tha’ legs on th’ ground
in such a hurry I knowed tha’ was all right. Sit thee down on th’ rug
a bit young Mester an’ give me thy orders.”

There was a queer mixture of crabbed tenderness and shrewd
understanding in his manner. Mary had poured out speech as rapidly as
she could as they had come down the Long Walk. The chief thing to be
remembered, she had told him, was that Colin was getting well–getting
well. The garden was doing it. No one must let him remember about
having humps and dying.

The Rajah condescended to seat himself on a rug under the tree.

“What work do you do in the gardens, Weatherstaff?” he inquired.

“Anythin’ I’m told to do,” answered old Ben. “I’m kep’ on by
favor–because she liked me.”

“She?” said Colin.

“Tha’ mother,” answered Ben Weatherstaff.

“My mother?” said Colin, and he looked about him quietly. “This was
her garden, wasn’t it?”

“Aye, it was that!” and Ben Weatherstaff looked about him too. “She
were main fond of it.”

“It is my garden now. I am fond of it. I shall come here every day,”
announced Colin. “But it is to be a secret. My orders are that no one
is to know that we come here. Dickon and my cousin have worked and
made it come alive. I shall send for you sometimes to help–but you
must come when no one can see you.”

Ben Weatherstaff’s face twisted itself in a dry old smile.

“I’ve come here before when no one saw me,” he said.

“What!” exclaimed Colin.

“When?”

“Th’ last time I was here,” rubbing his chin and looking round, “was
about two year’ ago.”

“But no one has been in it for ten years!” cried Colin.

“There was no door!”

“I’m no one,” said old Ben dryly. “An’ I didn’t come through th’ door.
I come over th’ wall. Th’ rheumatics held me back th’ last two year’.”

“Tha’ come an’ did a bit o’ prunin’!” cried Dickon. “I couldn’t make
out how it had been done.”

“She was so fond of it–she was!” said Ben Weatherstaff slowly. “An’
she was such a pretty young thing. She says to me once, ‘Ben,’ says
she laughin’, ‘if ever I’m ill or if I go away you must take care of my
roses.’ When she did go away th’ orders was no one was ever to come
nigh. But I come,” with grumpy obstinacy. “Over th’ wall I
come–until th’ rheumatics stopped me–an’ I did a bit o’ work once a
year. She’d gave her order first.”

“It wouldn’t have been as wick as it is if tha’ hadn’t done it,” said
Dickon. “I did wonder.”

“I’m glad you did it, Weatherstaff,” said Colin. “You’ll know how to
keep the secret.”

“Aye, I’ll know, sir,” answered Ben. “An’ it’ll be easier for a man
wi’ rheumatics to come in at th’ door.”

On the grass near the tree Mary had dropped her trowel. Colin
stretched out his hand and took it up. An odd expression came into his
face and he began to scratch at the earth. His thin hand was weak
enough but presently as they watched him–Mary with quite breathless
interest–he drove the end of the trowel into the soil and turned some
over.

“You can do it! You can do it!” said Mary to herself. “I tell you, you
can!”

Dickon’s round eyes were full of eager curiousness but he said not a
word. Ben Weatherstaff looked on with interested face.

Colin persevered. After he had turned a few trowelfuls of soil he
spoke exultantly to Dickon in his best Yorkshire.

“Tha’ said as tha’d have me walkin’ about here same as other folk–an’
tha’ said tha’d have me diggin’. I thowt tha’ was just leein’ to please
me. This is only th’ first day an’ I’ve walked–an’ here I am diggin’.”

Ben Weatherstaff’s mouth fell open again when he heard him, but he
ended by chuckling.

“Eh!” he said, “that sounds as if tha’d got wits enow. Tha’rt a
Yorkshire lad for sure. An’ tha’rt diggin’, too. How’d tha’ like to
plant a bit o’ somethin’? I can get thee a rose in a pot.”

“Go and get it!” said Colin, digging excitedly. “Quick! Quick!”

It was done quickly enough indeed. Ben Weatherstaff went his way
forgetting rheumatics. Dickon took his spade and dug the hole deeper
and wider than a new digger with thin white hands could make it. Mary
slipped out to run and bring back a watering-can. When Dickon had
deepened the hole Colin went on turning the soft earth over and over.
He looked up at the sky, flushed and glowing with the strangely new
exercise, slight as it was.

“I want to do it before the sun goes quite–quite down,” he said.

Mary thought that perhaps the sun held back a few minutes just on
purpose. Ben Weatherstaff brought the rose in its pot from the
greenhouse. He hobbled over the grass as fast as he could. He had
begun to be excited, too. He knelt down by the hole and broke the pot
from the mould.

“Here, lad,” he said, handing the plant to Colin. “Set it in the earth
thysel’ same as th’ king does when he goes to a new place.”

The thin white hands shook a little and Colin’s flush grew deeper as he
set the rose in the mould and held it while old Ben made firm the
earth. It was filled in and pressed down and made steady. Mary was
leaning forward on her hands and knees. Soot had flown down and
marched forward to see what was being done. Nut and Shell chattered
about it from a cherry-tree.

“It’s planted!” said Colin at last. “And the sun is only slipping over
the edge. Help me up, Dickon. I want to be standing when it goes.
That’s part of the Magic.”

And Dickon helped him, and the Magic–or whatever it was–so gave him
strength that when the sun did slip over the edge and end the strange
lovely afternoon for them there he actually stood on his two
feet–laughing.

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