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The Secret Garden Chapter 24

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garden vegitables

“LET THEM LAUGH”

The secret garden was not the only one Dickon worked in. Round the
cottage on the moor there was a piece of ground enclosed by a low wall
of rough stones. Early in the morning and late in the fading twilight
and on all the days Colin and Mary did not see him, Dickon worked there
planting or tending potatoes and cabbages, turnips and carrots and
herbs for his mother. In the company of his “creatures” he did wonders
there and was never tired of doing them, it seemed. While he dug or
weeded he whistled or sang bits of Yorkshire moor songs or talked to
Soot or Captain or the brothers and sisters he had taught to help him.

“We’d never get on as comfortable as we do,” Mrs. Sowerby said, “if it
wasn’t for Dickon’s garden. Anything’ll grow for him. His ‘taters and
cabbages is twice th’ size of any one else’s an’ they’ve got a flavor
with ‘em as nobody’s has.”

When she found a moment to spare she liked to go out and talk to him.
After supper there was still a long clear twilight to work in and that
was her quiet time. She could sit upon the low rough wall and look on
and hear stories of the day. She loved this time. There were not only
vegetables in this garden. Dickon had bought penny packages of flower
seeds now and then and sown bright sweet-scented things among
gooseberry bushes and even cabbages and he grew borders of mignonette
and pinks and pansies and things whose seeds he could save year after
year or whose roots would bloom each spring and spread in time into
fine clumps. The low wall was one of the prettiest things in Yorkshire
because he had tucked moorland foxglove and ferns and rock-cress and
hedgerow flowers into every crevice until only here and there glimpses
of the stones were to be seen.

“All a chap’s got to do to make ‘em thrive, mother,” he would say, “is
to be friends with ‘em for sure. They’re just like th’ ‘creatures.’ If
they’re thirsty give ‘em drink and if they’re hungry give ‘em a bit o’
food. They want to live same as we do. If they died I should feel as
if I’d been a bad lad and somehow treated them heartless.”

It was in these twilight hours that Mrs. Sowerby heard of all that
happened at Misselthwaite Manor. At first she was only told that
“Mester Colin” had taken a fancy to going out into the grounds with
Miss Mary and that it was doing him good. But it was not long before
it was agreed between the two children that Dickon’s mother might “come
into the secret.” Somehow it was not doubted that she was “safe for
sure.”

So one beautiful still evening Dickon told the whole story, with all
the thrilling details of the buried key and the robin and the gray haze
which had seemed like deadness and the secret Mistress Mary had planned
never to reveal. The coming of Dickon and how it had been told to him,
the doubt of Mester Colin and the final drama of his introduction to
the hidden domain, combined with the incident of Ben Weatherstaff’s
angry face peering over the wall and Mester Colin’s sudden indignant
strength, made Mrs. Sowerby’s nice-looking face quite change color
several times.

“My word!” she said. “It was a good thing that little lass came to th’
Manor. It’s been th’ makin’ o’ her an’ th’ savin, o’ him. Standin’ on
his feet! An’ us all thinkin’ he was a poor half-witted lad with not a
straight bone in him.”

She asked a great many questions and her blue eyes were full of deep
thinking.

“What do they make of it at th’ Manor–him being so well an’ cheerful
an’ never complainin’?” she inquired. “They don’t know what to make of
it,” answered Dickon. “Every day as comes round his face looks
different. It’s fillin’ out and doesn’t look so sharp an’ th’ waxy
color is goin’. But he has to do his bit o’ complainin’,” with a
highly entertained grin.

“What for, i’ Mercy’s name?” asked Mrs. Sowerby.

Dickon chuckled.

“He does it to keep them from guessin’ what’s happened. If the doctor
knew he’d found out he could stand on his feet he’d likely write and
tell Mester Craven. Mester Colin’s savin’ th’ secret to tell himself.
He’s goin’ to practise his Magic on his legs every day till his father
comes back an’ then he’s goin’ to march into his room an’ show him he’s
as straight as other lads. But him an’ Miss Mary thinks it’s best plan
to do a bit o’ groanin’ an’ frettin’ now an’ then to throw folk off th’
scent.”

Mrs. Sowerby was laughing a low comfortable laugh long before he had
finished his last sentence.

“Eh!” she said, “that pair’s enjoyin’ their-selves I’ll warrant.
They’ll get a good bit o’ actin’ out of it an’ there’s nothin’ children
likes as much as play actin’. Let’s hear what they do, Dickon lad.”
Dickon stopped weeding and sat up on his heels to tell her. His eyes
were twinkling with fun.

“Mester Colin is carried down to his chair every time he goes out,” he
explained. “An’ he flies out at John, th’ footman, for not carryin’
him careful enough. He makes himself as helpless lookin’ as he can an’
never lifts his head until we’re out o’ sight o’ th’ house. An’ he
grunts an’ frets a good bit when he’s bein’ settled into his chair.
Him an’ Miss Mary’s both got to enjoyin’ it an’ when he groans an’
complains she’ll say, ‘Poor Colin! Does it hurt you so much? Are you so
weak as that, poor Colin?’–but th’ trouble is that sometimes they can
scarce keep from burstin’ out laughin’. When we get safe into the
garden they laugh till they’ve no breath left to laugh with. An’ they
have to stuff their faces into Mester Colin’s cushions to keep the
gardeners from hearin’, if any of, ‘em’s about.”

“Th’ more they laugh th’ better for ‘em!” said Mrs. Sowerby, still
laughing herself. “Good healthy child laughin’s better than pills any
day o’ th’ year. That pair’ll plump up for sure.”

“They are plumpin’ up,” said Dickon. “They’re that hungry they don’t
know how to get enough to eat without makin’ talk. Mester Colin says
if he keeps sendin’ for more food they won’t believe he’s an invalid at
all. Miss Mary says she’ll let him eat her share, but he says that if
she goes hungry she’ll get thin an’ they mun both get fat at once.”

Mrs. Sowerby laughed so heartily at the revelation of this difficulty
that she quite rocked backward and forward in her blue cloak, and
Dickon laughed with her.

“I’ll tell thee what, lad,” Mrs. Sowerby said when she could speak.
“I’ve thought of a way to help ‘em. When tha’ goes to ‘em in th’
mornin’s tha’ shall take a pail o’ good new milk an’ I’ll bake ‘em a
crusty cottage loaf or some buns wi’ currants in ‘em, same as you
children like. Nothin’s so good as fresh milk an’ bread. Then they
could take off th’ edge o’ their hunger while they were in their garden
an’ th, fine food they get indoors ‘ud polish off th’ corners.”

“Eh! mother!” said Dickon admiringly, “what a wonder tha’ art! Tha’
always sees a way out o’ things. They was quite in a pother yesterday.
They didn’t see how they was to manage without orderin’ up more
food–they felt that empty inside.”

“They’re two young ‘uns growin’ fast, an’ health’s comin’ back to both
of ‘em. Children like that feels like young wolves an’ food’s flesh an’
blood to ‘em,” said Mrs. Sowerby. Then she smiled Dickon’s own curving
smile. “Eh! but they’re enjoyin’ theirselves for sure,” she said.

She was quite right, the comfortable wonderful mother creature–and she
had never been more so than when she said their “play actin’” would be
their joy. Colin and Mary found it one of their most thrilling sources
of entertainment. The idea of protecting themselves from suspicion had
been unconsciously suggested to them first by the puzzled nurse and
then by Dr. Craven himself.

“Your appetite. Is improving very much, Master Colin,” the nurse had
said one day. “You used to eat nothing, and so many things disagreed
with you.”

“Nothing disagrees with me now” replied Colin, and then seeing the
nurse looking at him curiously he suddenly remembered that perhaps he
ought not to appear too well just yet. “At least things don’t so often
disagree with me. It’s the fresh air.”

“Perhaps it is,” said the nurse, still looking at him with a mystified
expression. “But I must talk to Dr. Craven about it.”

“How she stared at you!” said Mary when she went away. “As if she
thought there must be something to find out.”

“I won’t have her finding out things,” said Colin. “No one must begin
to find out yet.” When Dr. Craven came that morning he seemed puzzled,
also. He asked a number of questions, to Colin’s great annoyance.

“You stay out in the garden a great deal,” he suggested. “Where do you
go?”

Colin put on his favorite air of dignified indifference to opinion.

“I will not let any one know where I go,” he answered. “I go to a
place I like. Every one has orders to keep out of the way. I won’t be
watched and stared at. You know that!”

“You seem to be out all day but I do not think it has done you harm–I
do not think so. The nurse says that you eat much more than you have
ever done before.”

“Perhaps,” said Colin, prompted by a sudden inspiration, “perhaps it is
an unnatural appetite.”

“I do not think so, as your food seems to agree with you,” said Dr.
Craven. “You are gaining flesh rapidly and your color is better.”

“Perhaps–perhaps I am bloated and feverish,” said Colin, assuming a
discouraging air of gloom. “People who are not going to live are
often–different.” Dr. Craven shook his head. He was holding Colin’s
wrist and he pushed up his sleeve and felt his arm.

“You are not feverish,” he said thoughtfully, “and such flesh as you
have gained is healthy. If you can keep this up, my boy, we need not
talk of dying. Your father will be happy to hear of this remarkable
improvement.”

“I won’t have him told!” Colin broke forth fiercely. “It will only
disappoint him if I get worse again–and I may get worse this very
night. I might have a raging fever. I feel as if I might be beginning
to have one now. I won’t have letters written to my father–I won’t–I
won’t! You are making me angry and you know that is bad for me. I
feel hot already. I hate being written about and being talked over as
much as I hate being stared at!”

“Hush-h! my boy,” Dr. Craven soothed him. “Nothing shall be written
without your permission. You are too sensitive about things. You must
not undo the good which has been done.”

He said no more about writing to Mr. Craven and when he saw the nurse
he privately warned her that such a possibility must not be mentioned
to the patient.

“The boy is extraordinarily better,” he said. “His advance seems
almost abnormal. But of course he is doing now of his own free will
what we could not make him do before. Still, he excites himself very
easily and nothing must be said to irritate him.” Mary and Colin were
much alarmed and talked together anxiously. From this time dated their
plan of “play actin’.”

“I may be obliged to have a tantrum,” said Colin regretfully. “I don’t
want to have one and I’m not miserable enough now to work myself into a
big one. Perhaps I couldn’t have one at all. That lump doesn’t come
in my throat now and I keep thinking of nice things instead of horrible
ones. But if they talk about writing to my father I shall have to do
something.”

He made up his mind to eat less, but unfortunately it was not possible
to carry out this brilliant idea when he wakened each morning with an
amazing appetite and the table near his sofa was set with a breakfast
of home-made bread and fresh butter, snow-white eggs, raspberry jam and
clotted cream. Mary always breakfasted with him and when they found
themselves at the table–particularly if there were delicate slices of
sizzling ham sending forth tempting odors from under a hot silver
cover–they would look into each other’s eyes in desperation.

“I think we shall have to eat it all this morning, Mary,” Colin always
ended by saying. “We can send away some of the lunch and a great deal
of the dinner.”

But they never found they could send away anything and the highly
polished condition of the empty plates returned to the pantry awakened
much comment.

“I do wish,” Colin would say also, “I do wish the slices of ham were
thicker, and one muffin each is not enough for any one.”

“It’s enough for a person who is going to die,” answered Mary when
first she heard this, “but it’s not enough for a person who is going to
live. I sometimes feel as if I could eat three when those nice fresh
heather and gorse smells from the moor come pouring in at the open
window.”

The morning that Dickon–after they had been enjoying themselves in the
garden for about two hours–went behind a big rosebush and brought
forth two tin pails and revealed that one was full of rich new milk
with cream on the top of it, and that the other held cottage-made
currant buns folded in a clean blue and white napkin, buns so carefully
tucked in that they were still hot, there was a riot of surprised
joyfulness. What a wonderful thing for Mrs. Sowerby to think of! What
a kind, clever woman she must be! How good the buns were! And what
delicious fresh milk!

“Magic is in her just as it is in Dickon,” said Colin. “It makes her
think of ways to do things–nice things. She is a Magic person. Tell
her we are grateful, Dickon–extremely grateful.” He was given to using
rather grown-up phrases at times. He enjoyed them. He liked this so
much that he improved upon it.

“Tell her she has been most bounteous and our gratitude is extreme.”

And then forgetting his grandeur he fell to and stuffed himself with
buns and drank milk out of the pail in copious draughts in the manner
of any hungry little boy who had been taking unusual exercise and
breathing in moorland air and whose breakfast was more than two hours
behind him.

This was the beginning of many agreeable incidents of the same kind.
They actually awoke to the fact that as Mrs. Sowerby had fourteen
people to provide food for she might not have enough to satisfy two
extra appetites every day. So they asked her to let them send some of
their shillings to buy things.

Dickon made the stimulating discovery that in the wood in the park
outside the garden where Mary had first found him piping to the wild
creatures there was a deep little hollow where you could build a sort
of tiny oven with stones and roast potatoes and eggs in it. Roasted
eggs were a previously unknown luxury and very hot potatoes with salt
and fresh butter in them were fit for a woodland king–besides being
deliciously satisfying. You could buy both potatoes and eggs and eat
as many as you liked without feeling as if you were taking food out of
the mouths of fourteen people.

Every beautiful morning the Magic was worked by the mystic circle under
the plum-tree which provided a canopy of thickening green leaves after
its brief blossom-time was ended. After the ceremony Colin always took
his walking exercise and throughout the day he exercised his newly
found power at intervals. Each day he grew stronger and could walk
more steadily and cover more ground. And each day his belief in the
Magic grew stronger–as well it might. He tried one experiment after
another as he felt himself gaining strength and it was Dickon who
showed him the best things of all.

“Yesterday,” he said one morning after an absence, “I went to Thwaite
for mother an’ near th’ Blue Cow Inn I seed Bob Haworth. He’s the
strongest chap on th’ moor. He’s the champion wrestler an’ he can jump
higher than any other chap an’ throw th’ hammer farther. He’s gone all
th’ way to Scotland for th’ sports some years. He’s knowed me ever
since I was a little ‘un an’ he’s a friendly sort an’ I axed him some
questions. Th’ gentry calls him a athlete and I thought o’ thee,
Mester Colin, and I says, ‘How did tha’ make tha’ muscles stick out
that way, Bob? Did tha’ do anythin’ extra to make thysel’ so strong?’
An’ he says ‘Well, yes, lad, I did. A strong man in a show that came
to Thwaite once showed me how to exercise my arms an’ legs an’ every
muscle in my body. An’ I says, ‘Could a delicate chap make himself
stronger with ‘em, Bob?’ an’ he laughed an’ says, ‘Art tha’ th’
delicate chap?’ an’ I says, ‘No, but I knows a young gentleman that’s
gettin’ well of a long illness an’ I wish I knowed some o’ them tricks
to tell him about.’ I didn’t say no names an’ he didn’t ask none. He’s
friendly same as I said an’ he stood up an’ showed me good-natured
like, an’ I imitated what he did till I knowed it by heart.”

Colin had been listening excitedly.

“Can you show me?” he cried. “Will you?”

“Aye, to be sure,” Dickon answered, getting up. “But he says tha’ mun
do ‘em gentle at first an’ be careful not to tire thysel’. Rest in
between times an’ take deep breaths an’ don’t overdo.”

“I’ll be careful,” said Colin. “Show me! Show me! Dickon, you are the
most Magic boy in the world!”

Dickon stood up on the grass and slowly went through a carefully
practical but simple series of muscle exercises. Colin watched them
with widening eyes. He could do a few while he was sitting down.
Presently he did a few gently while he stood upon his already steadied
feet. Mary began to do them also. Soot, who was watching the
performance, became much disturbed and left his branch and hopped about
restlessly because he could not do them too.

From that time the exercises were part of the day’s duties as much as
the Magic was. It became possible for both Colin and Mary to do more
of them each time they tried, and such appetites were the results that
but for the basket Dickon put down behind the bush each morning when he
arrived they would have been lost. But the little oven in the hollow
and Mrs. Sowerby’s bounties were so satisfying that Mrs. Medlock and
the nurse and Dr. Craven became mystified again. You can trifle with
your breakfast and seem to disdain your dinner if you are full to the
brim with roasted eggs and potatoes and richly frothed new milk and
oatcakes and buns and heather honey and clotted cream.

“They are eating next to nothing,” said the nurse. “They’ll die of
starvation if they can’t be persuaded to take some nourishment. And
yet see how they look.”

“Look!” exclaimed Mrs. Medlock indignantly. “Eh! I’m moithered to
death with them. They’re a pair of young Satans. Bursting their
jackets one day and the next turning up their noses at the best meals
Cook can tempt them with. Not a mouthful of that lovely young fowl and
bread sauce did they set a fork into yesterday–and the poor woman fair
invented a pudding for them–and back it’s sent. She almost cried.
She’s afraid she’ll be blamed if they starve themselves into their
graves.”

Dr. Craven came and looked at Colin long and carefully, He wore an
extremely worried expression when the nurse talked with him and showed
him the almost untouched tray of breakfast she had saved for him to
look at–but it was even more worried when he sat down by Colin’s sofa
and examined him. He had been called to London on business and had not
seen the boy for nearly two weeks. When young things begin to gain
health they gain it rapidly. The waxen tinge had left, Colins skin and
a warm rose showed through it; his beautiful eyes were clear and the
hollows under them and in his cheeks and temples had filled out. His
once dark, heavy locks had begun to look as if they sprang healthily
from his forehead and were soft and warm with life. His lips were
fuller and of a normal color. In fact as an imitation of a boy who was
a confirmed invalid he was a disgraceful sight. Dr. Craven held his
chin in his hand and thought him over.

“I am sorry to hear that you do not eat anything,” he said. “That will
not do. You will lose all you have gained–and you have gained
amazingly. You ate so well a short time ago.”

“I told you it was an unnatural appetite,” answered Colin.

Mary was sitting on her stool nearby and she suddenly made a very queer
sound which she tried so violently to repress that she ended by almost
choking.

“What is the matter?” said Dr. Craven, turning to look at her.

Mary became quite severe in her manner.

“It was something between a sneeze and a cough,” she replied with
reproachful dignity, “and it got into my throat.”

“But,” she said afterward to Colin, “I couldn’t stop myself. It just
burst out because all at once I couldn’t help remembering that last big
potato you ate and the way your mouth stretched when you bit through
that thick lovely crust with jam and clotted cream on it.”

“Is there any way in which those children can get food secretly?” Dr.
Craven inquired of Mrs. Medlock.

“There’s no way unless they dig it out of the earth or pick it off the
trees,” Mrs. Medlock answered. “They stay out in the grounds all day
and see no one but each other. And if they want anything different to
eat from what’s sent up to them they need only ask for it.”

“Well,” said Dr. Craven, “so long as going without food agrees with
them we need not disturb ourselves. The boy is a new creature.”

“So is the girl,” said Mrs. Medlock. “She’s begun to be downright
pretty since she’s filled out and lost her ugly little sour look. Her
hair’s grown thick and healthy looking and she’s got a bright color.
The glummest, ill-natured little thing she used to be and now her and
Master Colin laugh together like a pair of crazy young ones. Perhaps
they’re growing fat on that.”

“Perhaps they are,” said Dr. Craven. “Let them laugh.”

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