The Secret Garden, Chapter 27

The Secret Garden

The final chapter of our classic series is read by Natasha.


CHAPTER XXVII

IN THE GARDEN

In each century since the beginning of the world wonderful things have
been discovered. In the last century more amazing things were found
out than in any century before. In this new century hundreds of things
still more astounding will be brought to light. At first people refuse
to believe that a strange new thing can be done, then they begin to
hope it can be done, then they see it can be done–then it is done and
all the world wonders why it was not done centuries ago. One of the
new things people began to find out in the last century was that
thoughts–just mere thoughts–are as powerful as electric batteries–as
good for one as sunlight is, or as bad for one as poison. To let a sad
thought or a bad one get into your mind is as dangerous as letting a
scarlet fever germ get into your body. If you let it stay there after
it has got in you may never get over it as long as you live.

So long as Mistress Mary’s mind was full of disagreeable thoughts about
her dislikes and sour opinions of people and her determination not to
be pleased by or interested in anything, she was a yellow-faced,
sickly, bored and wretched child. Circumstances, however, were very
kind to her, though she was not at all aware of it. They began to push
her about for her own good. When her mind gradually filled itself with
robins, and moorland cottages crowded with children, with queer crabbed
old gardeners and common little Yorkshire housemaids, with springtime
and with secret gardens coming alive day by day, and also with a moor
boy and his “creatures,” there was no room left for the disagreeable
thoughts which affected her liver and her digestion and made her yellow
and tired.

So long as Colin shut himself up in his room and thought only of his
fears and weakness and his detestation of people who looked at him and
reflected hourly on humps and early death, he was a hysterical
half-crazy little hypochondriac who knew nothing of the sunshine and
the spring and also did not know that he could get well and could stand
upon his feet if he tried to do it. When new beautiful thoughts began
to push out the old hideous ones, life began to come back to him, his
blood ran healthily through his veins and strength poured into him like
a flood. His scientific experiment was quite practical and simple and
there was nothing weird about it at all. Much more surprising things
can happen to any one who, when a disagreeable or discouraged thought
comes into his mind, just has the sense to remember in time and push it
out by putting in an agreeable determinedly courageous one. Two things
cannot be in one place.

“Where, you tend a rose, my lad,
A thistle cannot grow.”

While the secret garden was coming alive and two children were coming
alive with it, there was a man wandering about certain far-away
beautiful places in the Norwegian fiords and the valleys and mountains
of Switzerland and he was a man who for ten years had kept his mind
filled with dark and heart-broken thinking. He had not been
courageous; he had never tried to put any other thoughts in the place
of the dark ones. He had wandered by blue lakes and thought them; he
had lain on mountain-sides with sheets of deep blue gentians blooming
all about him and flower breaths filling all the air and he had thought
them. A terrible sorrow had fallen upon him when he had been happy and
he had let his soul fill itself with blackness and had refused
obstinately to allow any rift of light to pierce through. He had
forgotten and deserted his home and his duties. When he traveled
about, darkness so brooded over him that the sight of him was a wrong
done to other people because it was as if he poisoned the air about him
with gloom. Most strangers thought he must be either half mad or a man
with some hidden crime on his soul. He, was a tall man with a drawn
face and crooked shoulders and the name he always entered on hotel
registers was, “Archibald Craven, Misselthwaite Manor, Yorkshire,
England.”

He had traveled far and wide since the day he saw Mistress Mary in his
study and told her she might have her “bit of earth.” He had been in
the most beautiful places in Europe, though he had remained nowhere
more than a few days. He had chosen the quietest and remotest spots.
He had been on the tops of mountains whose heads were in the clouds and
had looked down on other mountains when the sun rose and touched them
with such light as made it seem as if the world were just being born.

But the light had never seemed to touch himself until one day when he
realized that for the first time in ten years a strange thing had
happened. He was in a wonderful valley in the Austrian Tyrol and he
had been walking alone through such beauty as might have lifted, any
man’s soul out of shadow. He had walked a long way and it had not
lifted his. But at last he had felt tired and had thrown himself down
to rest on a carpet of moss by a stream. It was a clear little stream
which ran quite merrily along on its narrow way through the luscious
damp greenness. Sometimes it made a sound rather like very low
laughter as it bubbled over and round stones. He saw birds come and
dip their heads to drink in it and then flick their wings and fly away.
It seemed like a thing alive and yet its tiny voice made the stillness
seem deeper. The valley was very, very still.

As he sat gazing into the clear running of the water, Archibald Craven
gradually felt his mind and body both grow quiet, as quiet as the
valley itself. He wondered if he were going to sleep, but he was not.
He sat and gazed at the sunlit water and his eyes began to see things
growing at its edge. There was one lovely mass of blue forget-me-nots
growing so close to the stream that its leaves were wet and at these he
found himself looking as he remembered he had looked at such things
years ago. He was actually thinking tenderly how lovely it was and
what wonders of blue its hundreds of little blossoms were. He did not
know that just that simple thought was slowly filling his mind–filling
and filling it until other things were softly pushed aside. It was as
if a sweet clear spring had begun to rise in a stagnant pool and had
risen and risen until at last it swept the dark water away. But of
course he did not think of this himself. He only knew that the valley
seemed to grow quieter and quieter as he sat and stared at the bright
delicate blueness. He did not know how long he sat there or what was
happening to him, but at last he moved as if he were awakening and he
got up slowly and stood on the moss carpet, drawing a long, deep, soft
breath and wondering at himself. Something seemed to have been unbound
and released in him, very quietly.

“What is it?” he said, almost in a whisper, and he passed his hand over
his forehead. “I almost feel as if–I were alive!”

I do not know enough about the wonderfulness of undiscovered things to
be able to explain how this had happened to him. Neither does any one
else yet. He did not understand at all himself–but he remembered this
strange hour months afterward when he was at Misselthwaite again and he
found out quite by accident that on this very day Colin had cried out
as he went into the secret garden:

“I am going to live forever and ever and ever!”

The singular calmness remained with him the rest of the evening and he
slept a new reposeful sleep; but it was not with him very long. He did
not know that it could be kept. By the next night he had opened the
doors wide to his dark thoughts and they had come trooping and rushing
back. He left the valley and went on his wandering way again. But,
strange as it seemed to him, there were minutes–sometimes
half-hours–when, without his knowing why, the black burden seemed to
lift itself again and he knew he was a living man and not a dead one.
Slowly–slowly–for no reason that he knew of–he was “coming alive”
with the garden.

As the golden summer changed into the deep golden autumn he went to the
Lake of Como. There he found the loveliness of a dream. He spent his
days upon the crystal blueness of the lake or he walked back into the
soft thick verdure of the hills and tramped until he was tired so that
he might sleep. But by this time he had begun to sleep better, he
knew, and his dreams had ceased to be a terror to him.

“Perhaps,” he thought, “my body is growing stronger.”

It was growing stronger but–because of the rare peaceful hours when
his thoughts were changed–his soul was slowly growing stronger, too.
He began to think of Misselthwaite and wonder if he should not go home.
Now and then he wondered vaguely about his boy and asked himself what
he should feel when he went and stood by the carved four-posted bed
again and looked down at the sharply chiseled ivory-white face while it
slept and, the black lashes rimmed so startlingly the close-shut eyes.
He shrank from it.

One marvel of a day he had walked so far that when he returned the moon
was high and full and all the world was purple shadow and silver. The
stillness of lake and shore and wood was so wonderful that he did not
go into the villa he lived in. He walked down to a little bowered
terrace at the water’s edge and sat upon a seat and breathed in all the
heavenly scents of the night. He felt the strange calmness stealing
over him and it grew deeper and deeper until he fell asleep.

He did not know when he fell asleep and when he began to dream; his
dream was so real that he did not feel as if he were dreaming. He
remembered afterward how intensely wide awake and alert he had thought
he was. He thought that as he sat and breathed in the scent of the
late roses and listened to the lapping of the water at his feet he
heard a voice calling. It was sweet and clear and happy and far away.
It seemed very far, but he heard it as distinctly as if it had been at
his very side.

“Archie! Archie! Archie!” it said, and then again, sweeter and clearer
than before, “Archie! Archie!”

He thought he sprang to his feet not even startled. It was such a real
voice and it seemed so natural that he should hear it.

“Lilias! Lilias!” he answered. “Lilias! where are you?”

“In the garden,” it came back like a sound from a golden flute. “In
the garden!”

And then the dream ended. But he did not awaken. He slept soundly and
sweetly all through the lovely night. When he did awake at last it was
brilliant morning and a servant was standing staring at him. He was an
Italian servant and was accustomed, as all the servants of the villa
were, to accepting without question any strange thing his foreign
master might do. No one ever knew when he would go out or come in or
where he would choose to sleep or if he would roam about the garden or
lie in the boat on the lake all night. The man held a salver with some
letters on it and he waited quietly until Mr. Craven took them. When
he had gone away Mr. Craven sat a few moments holding them in his hand
and looking at the lake. His strange calm was still upon him and
something more–a lightness as if the cruel thing which had been done
had not happened as he thought–as if something had changed. He was
remembering the dream–the real–real dream.

“In the garden!” he said, wondering at himself. “In the garden! But
the door is locked and the key is buried deep.”

When he glanced at the letters a few minutes later he saw that the one
lying at the top of the rest was an English letter and came from
Yorkshire. It was directed in a plain woman’s hand but it was not a
hand he knew. He opened it, scarcely thinking of the writer, but the
first words attracted his attention at once.

“Dear Sir:

I am Susan Sowerby that made bold to speak to you once on the moor. It
was about Miss Mary I spoke. I will make bold to speak again. Please,
sir, I would come home if I was you. I think you would be glad to come
and–if you will excuse me, sir–I think your lady would ask you to
come if she was here.

Your obedient servant,
Susan Sowerby.”

Mr. Craven read the letter twice before he put it back in its envelope.
He kept thinking about the dream.

“I will go back to Misselthwaite,” he said. “Yes, I’ll go at once.”

And he went through the garden to the villa and ordered Pitcher to
prepare for his return to England.

In a few days he was in Yorkshire again, and on his long railroad
journey he found himself thinking of his boy as he had never thought in
all the ten years past. During those years he had only wished to
forget him. Now, though he did not intend to think about him, memories
of him constantly drifted into his mind. He remembered the black days
when he had raved like a madman because the child was alive and the
mother was dead. He had refused to see it, and when he had gone to
look at it at last it had been, such a weak wretched thing that
everyone had been sure it would die in a few days. But to the surprise
of those who took care of it the days passed and it lived and then
everyone believed it would be a deformed and crippled creature.

He had not meant to be a bad father, but he had not felt like a father
at all. He had supplied doctors and nurses and luxuries, but he had
shrunk from the mere thought of the boy and had buried himself in his
own misery. The first time after a year’s absence he returned to
Misselthwaite and the small miserable looking thing languidly and
indifferently lifted to his face the great gray eyes with black lashes
round them, so like and yet so horribly unlike the happy eyes he had
adored, he could not bear the sight of them and turned away pale as
death. After that he scarcely ever saw him except when he was asleep,
and all he knew of him was that he was a confirmed invalid, with a
vicious, hysterical, half-insane temper. He could only be kept from
furies dangerous to himself by being given his own way in every detail.

All this was not an uplifting thing to recall, but as the train whirled
him through mountain passes and golden plains the man who was “coming
alive” began to think in a new way and he thought long and steadily and
deeply.

“Perhaps I have been all wrong for ten years,” he said to himself.
“Ten years is a long time. It may be too late to do anything–quite
too late. What have I been thinking of!”

Of course this was the wrong Magic–to begin by saying “too late.” Even
Colin could have told him that. But he knew nothing of Magic–either
black or white. This he had yet to learn. He wondered if Susan
Sowerby had taken courage and written to him only because the motherly
creature had realized that the boy was much worse–was fatally ill. If
he had not been under the spell of the curious calmness which had taken
possession of him he would have been more wretched than ever. But the
calm had brought a sort of courage and hope with it. Instead of giving
way to thoughts of the worst he actually found he was trying to believe
in better things.

“Could it be possible that she sees that I may be able to do him good
and control him?” he thought. “I will go and see her on my way to
Misselthwaite.”

But when on his way across the moor he stopped the carriage at the
cottage, seven or eight children who were playing about gathered in a
group and bobbing seven or eight friendly and polite curtsies told him
that their mother had gone to the other side of the moor early in the
morning to help a woman who had a new baby. “Our Dickon,” they
volunteered, was over at the Manor working in one of the gardens where
he went several days each week.

Mr. Craven looked over the collection of sturdy little bodies and round
red-cheeked faces, each one grinning in its own particular way, and he
awoke to the fact that they were a healthy likable lot. He smiled at
their friendly grins and took a golden sovereign from his pocket and
gave it to “our ‘Lizabeth Ellen” who was the oldest.

“If you divide that into eight parts there will be half a crown for
each of, you,” he said.

Then amid grins and chuckles and bobbing of curtsies he drove away,
leaving ecstasy and nudging elbows and little jumps of joy behind.

The drive across the wonderfulness of the moor was a soothing thing.
Why did it seem to give him a sense of homecoming which he had been
sure he could never feel again–that sense of the beauty of land and
sky and purple bloom of distance and a warming of the heart at drawing,
nearer to the great old house which had held those of his blood for six
hundred years? How he had driven away from it the last time, shuddering
to think of its closed rooms and the boy lying in the four-posted bed
with the brocaded hangings. Was it possible that perhaps he might find
him changed a little for the better and that he might overcome his
shrinking from him? How real that dream had been–how wonderful and
clear the voice which called back to him, “In the garden–In the
garden!”

“I will try to find the key,” he said. “I will try to open the door.
I must–though I don’t know why.”

When he arrived at the Manor the servants who received him with the
usual ceremony noticed that he looked better and that he did not go to
the remote rooms where he usually lived attended by Pitcher. He went
into the library and sent for Mrs. Medlock. She came to him somewhat
excited and curious and flustered.

“How is Master Colin, Medlock?” he inquired. “Well, sir,” Mrs. Medlock
answered, “he’s–he’s different, in a manner of speaking.”

“Worse?” he suggested.

Mrs. Medlock really was flushed.

“Well, you see, sir,” she tried to explain, “neither Dr. Craven, nor
the nurse, nor me can exactly make him out.”

“Why is that?”

“To tell the truth, sir, Master Colin might be better and he might be
changing for the worse. His appetite, sir, is past understanding–and
his ways–”

“Has he become more–more peculiar?” her master, asked, knitting his
brows anxiously.

“That’s it, sir. He’s growing very peculiar–when you compare him with
what he used to be. He used to eat nothing and then suddenly he began
to eat something enormous–and then he stopped again all at once and
the meals were sent back just as they used to be. You never knew, sir,
perhaps, that out of doors he never would let himself be taken. The
things we’ve gone through to get him to go out in his chair would leave
a body trembling like a leaf. He’d throw himself into such a state
that Dr. Craven said he couldn’t be responsible for forcing him. Well,
sir, just without warning–not long after one of his worst tantrums he
suddenly insisted on being taken out every day by Miss Mary and Susan
Sowerby’s boy Dickon that could push his chair. He took a fancy to
both Miss Mary and Dickon, and Dickon brought his tame animals, and, if
you’ll credit it, sir, out of doors he will stay from morning until
night.”

“How does he look?” was the next question.

“If he took his food natural, sir, you’d think he was putting on
flesh–but we’re afraid it may be a sort of bloat. He laughs sometimes
in a queer way when he’s alone with Miss Mary. He never used to laugh
at all. Dr. Craven is coming to see you at once, if you’ll allow him.
He never was as puzzled in his life.”

“Where is Master Colin now?” Mr. Craven asked.

“In the garden, sir. He’s always in the garden–though not a human
creature is allowed to go near for fear they’ll look at him.”

Mr. Craven scarcely heard her last words.

“In the garden,” he said, and after he had sent Mrs. Medlock away he
stood and repeated it again and again. “In the garden!”

He had to make an effort to bring himself back to the place he was
standing in and when he felt he was on earth again he turned and went
out of the room. He took his way, as Mary had done, through the door
in the shrubbery and among the laurels and the fountain beds. The
fountain was playing now and was encircled by beds of brilliant autumn
flowers. He crossed the lawn and turned into the Long Walk by the
ivied walls. He did not walk quickly, but slowly, and his eyes were on
the path. He felt as if he were being drawn back to the place he had
so long forsaken, and he did not know why. As he drew near to it his
step became still more slow. He knew where the door was even though
the ivy hung thick over it–but he did not know exactly where it
lay–that buried key.

So he stopped and stood still, looking about him, and almost the moment
after he had paused he started and listened–asking himself if he were
walking in a dream.

The ivy hung thick over the door, the key was buried under the shrubs,
no human being had passed that portal for ten lonely years–and yet
inside the garden there were sounds. They were the sounds of running
scuffling feet seeming to chase round and round under the trees, they
were strange sounds of lowered suppressed voices–exclamations and
smothered joyous cries. It seemed actually like the laughter of young
things, the uncontrollable laughter of children who were trying not to
be heard but who in a moment or so–as their excitement mounted–would
burst forth. What in heaven’s name was he dreaming of–what in
heaven’s name did he hear? Was he losing his reason and thinking he
heard things which were not for human ears? Was it that the far clear
voice had meant?

And then the moment came, the uncontrollable moment when the sounds
forgot to hush themselves. The feet ran faster and faster–they were
nearing the garden door–there was quick strong young breathing and a
wild outbreak of laughing shows which could not be contained–and the
door in the wall was flung wide open, the sheet of ivy swinging back,
and a boy burst through it at full speed and, without seeing the
outsider, dashed almost into his arms.

Mr. Craven had extended them just in time to save him from falling as a
result of his unseeing dash against him, and when he held him away to
look at him in amazement at his being there he truly gasped for breath.

He was a tall boy and a handsome one. He was glowing with life and his
running had sent splendid color leaping to his face. He threw the
thick hair back from his forehead and lifted a pair of strange gray
eyes–eyes full of boyish laughter and rimmed with black lashes like a
fringe. It was the eyes which made Mr. Craven gasp for breath.
“Who–What? Who!” he stammered.

This was not what Colin had expected–this was not what he had planned.
He had never thought of such a meeting. And yet to come dashing
out–winning a race–perhaps it was even better. He drew himself up to
his very tallest. Mary, who had been running with him and had dashed
through the door too, believed that he managed to make himself look
taller than he had ever looked before–inches taller.

“Father,” he said, “I’m Colin. You can’t believe it. I scarcely can
myself. I’m Colin.”

Like Mrs. Medlock, he did not understand what his father meant when he
said hurriedly:

“In the garden! In the garden!”

“Yes,” hurried on Colin. “It was the garden that did it–and Mary and
Dickon and the creatures–and the Magic. No one knows. We kept it to
tell you when you came. I’m well, I can beat Mary in a race. I’m
going to be an athlete.”

He said it all so like a healthy boy–his face flushed, his words
tumbling over each other in his eagerness–that Mr. Craven’s soul shook
with unbelieving joy.

Colin put out his hand and laid it on his father’s arm.

“Aren’t you glad, Father?” he ended. “Aren’t you glad? I’m going to
live forever and ever and ever!”

Mr. Craven put his hands on both the boy’s shoulders and held him
still. He knew he dared not even try to speak for a moment.

“Take me into the garden, my boy,” he said at last. “And tell me all
about it.”

And so they led him in.

The place was a wilderness of autumn gold and purple and violet blue
and flaming scarlet and on every side were sheaves of late lilies
standing together–lilies which were white or white and ruby. He
remembered well when the first of them had been planted that just at
this season of the year their late glories should reveal themselves.
Late roses climbed and hung and clustered and the sunshine deepening
the hue of the yellowing trees made one feel that one, stood in an
embowered temple of gold. The newcomer stood silent just as the
children had done when they came into its grayness. He looked round
and round.

“I thought it would be dead,” he said.

“Mary thought so at first,” said Colin. “But it came alive.”

Then they sat down under their tree–all but Colin, who wanted to stand
while he told the story.

It was the strangest thing he had ever heard, Archibald Craven thought,
as it was poured forth in headlong boy fashion. Mystery and Magic and
wild creatures, the weird midnight meeting–the coming of the
spring–the passion of insulted pride which had dragged the young Rajah
to his feet to defy old Ben Weatherstaff to his face. The odd
companionship, the play acting, the great secret so carefully kept.
The listener laughed until tears came into his eyes and sometimes tears
came into his eyes when he was not laughing. The Athlete, the
Lecturer, the Scientific Discoverer was a laughable, lovable, healthy
young human thing.

“Now,” he said at the end of the story, “it need not be a secret any
more. I dare say it will frighten them nearly into fits when they see
me–but I am never going to get into the chair again. I shall walk
back with you, Father–to the house.”

Ben Weatherstaff’s duties rarely took him away from the gardens, but on
this occasion he made an excuse to carry some vegetables to the kitchen
and being invited into the servants’ hall by Mrs. Medlock to drink a
glass of beer he was on the spot–as he had hoped to be–when the most
dramatic event Misselthwaite Manor had seen during the present
generation actually took place. One of the windows looking upon the
courtyard gave also a glimpse of the lawn. Mrs. Medlock, knowing Ben
had come from the gardens, hoped that he might have caught sight of his
master and even by chance of his meeting with Master Colin.

“Did you see either of them, Weatherstaff?” she asked.

Ben took his beer-mug from his mouth and wiped his lips with the back
of his hand.

“Aye, that I did,” he answered with a shrewdly significant air.

“Both of them?” suggested Mrs. Medlock.

“Both of ‘em,” returned Ben Weatherstaff. “Thank ye kindly, ma’am, I
could sup up another mug of it.”

“Together?” said Mrs. Medlock, hastily overfilling his beer-mug in her
excitement.

“Together, ma’am,” and Ben gulped down half of his new mug at one gulp.

“Where was Master Colin? How did he look? What did they say to each
other?”

“I didna’ hear that,” said Ben, “along o’ only bein’ on th’ stepladder
lookin, over th’ wall. But I’ll tell thee this. There’s been things
goin’ on outside as you house people knows nowt about. An’ what tha’ll
find out tha’ll find out soon.”

And it was not two minutes before he swallowed the last of his beer and
waved his mug solemnly toward the window which took in through the
shrubbery a piece of the lawn.

“Look there,” he said, “if tha’s curious. Look what’s comin’ across
th’ grass.”

When Mrs. Medlock looked she threw up her hands and gave a little
shriek and every man and woman servant within hearing bolted across the
servants’ hall and stood looking through the window with their eyes
almost starting out of their heads.

Across the lawn came the Master of Misselthwaite and he looked as many
of them had never seen him. And by his, side with his head up in the
air and his eyes full of laughter walked as strongly and steadily as
any boy in Yorkshire–Master Colin.

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