The Secret Garden Chapter 1

00.00.00 00.00.00 loading
The Secret Garden

Our new series is the Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett. It's in 27 Chapters - and you will be pleased to know that we have recorded all of them before we embark on publishing the novel. As you will hear, Natasha reads this with commitment and conviction.

The Secret Garden is the classic story of Mary Lennox, a spoilt, wilful, arrogant little girl, brought up in British India during the time of the Empire. Her parents more or less ignored her. She was attended to by the servants and she lorded it over them. Then, when the Cholera comes, and kills her parents, her world changes. She is brought home to England, the Northern County of Yorkshire, where people act and behave very differently from what she is used to.



When Mary Lennox was sent to Misselthwaite Manor to live with her uncle
everybody said she was the most disagreeable-looking child ever seen.
It was true, too. She had a little thin face and a little thin body,
thin light hair and a sour expression. Her hair was yellow, and her
face was yellow because she had been born in India and had always been
ill in one way or another. Her father had held a position under the
English Government and had always been busy and ill himself, and her
mother had been a great beauty who cared only to go to parties and
amuse herself with gay people. She had not wanted a little girl at
all, and when Mary was born she handed her over to the care of an Ayah,
who was made to understand that if she wished to please the Mem Sahib
she must keep the child out of sight as much as possible. So when she
was a sickly, fretful, ugly little baby she was kept out of the way,
and when she became a sickly, fretful, toddling thing she was kept out
of the way also. She never remembered seeing familiarly anything but
the dark faces of her Ayah and the other native servants, and as they
always obeyed her and gave her her own way in everything, because the
Mem Sahib would be angry if she was disturbed by her crying, by the
time she was six years old she was as tyrannical and selfish a little
pig as ever lived. The young English governess who came to teach her
to read and write disliked her so much that she gave up her place in
three months, and when other governesses came to try to fill it they
always went away in a shorter time than the first one. So if Mary had
not chosen to really want to know how to read books she would never
have learned her letters at all.

One frightfully hot morning, when she was about nine years old, she
awakened feeling very cross, and she became crosser still when she saw
that the servant who stood by her bedside was not her Ayah.

"Why did you come?" she said to the strange woman. "I will not let you
stay. Send my Ayah to me."

The woman looked frightened, but she only stammered that the Ayah could
not come and when Mary threw herself into a passion and beat and kicked
her, she looked only more frightened and repeated that it was not
possible for the Ayah to come to Missie Sahib.

There was something mysterious in the air that morning. Nothing was
done in its regular order and several of the native servants seemed
missing, while those whom Mary saw slunk or hurried about with ashy and
scared faces. But no one would tell her anything and her Ayah did not
come. She was actually left alone as the morning went on, and at last
she wandered out into the garden and began to play by herself under a
tree near the veranda. She pretended that she was making a flower-bed,
and she stuck big scarlet hibiscus blossoms into little heaps of earth,
all the time growing more and more angry and muttering to herself the
things she would say and the names she would call Saidie when she

"Pig! Pig! Daughter of Pigs!" she said, because to call a native a pig
is the worst insult of all.

She was grinding her teeth and saying this over and over again when she
heard her mother come out on the veranda with some one. She was with a
fair young man and they stood talking together in low strange voices.
Mary knew the fair young man who looked like a boy. She had heard that
he was a very young officer who had just come from England. The child
stared at him, but she stared most at her mother. She always did this
when she had a chance to see her, because the Mem Sahib--Mary used to
call her that oftener than anything else--was such a tall, slim, pretty
person and wore such lovely clothes. Her hair was like curly silk and
she had a delicate little nose which seemed to be disdaining things,
and she had large laughing eyes. All her clothes were thin and
floating, and Mary said they were "full of lace." They looked fuller of
lace than ever this morning, but her eyes were not laughing at all.
They were large and scared and lifted imploringly to the fair boy
officer's face.

"Is it so very bad? Oh, is it?" Mary heard her say.

"Awfully," the young man answered in a trembling voice. "Awfully, Mrs.
Lennox. You ought to have gone to the hills two weeks ago."

The Mem Sahib wrung her hands.

"Oh, I know I ought!" she cried. "I only stayed to go to that silly
dinner party. What a fool I was!"

At that very moment such a loud sound of wailing broke out from the
servants' quarters that she clutched the young man's arm, and Mary
stood shivering from head to foot. The wailing grew wilder and wilder.
"What is it? What is it?" Mrs. Lennox gasped.

"Some one has died," answered the boy officer. "You did not say it had
broken out among your servants."

"I did not know!" the Mem Sahib cried. "Come with me! Come with me!"
and she turned and ran into the house.

After that, appalling things happened, and the mysteriousness of the
morning was explained to Mary. The cholera had broken out in its most
fatal form and people were dying like flies. The Ayah had been taken
ill in the night, and it was because she had just died that the
servants had wailed in the huts. Before the next day three other
servants were dead and others had run away in terror. There was panic
on every side, and dying people in all the bungalows.

During the confusion and bewilderment of the second day Mary hid
herself in the nursery and was forgotten by everyone. Nobody thought
of her, nobody wanted her, and strange things happened of which she
knew nothing. Mary alternately cried and slept through the hours. She
only knew that people were ill and that she heard mysterious and
frightening sounds. Once she crept into the dining-room and found it
empty, though a partly finished meal was on the table and chairs and
plates looked as if they had been hastily pushed back when the diners
rose suddenly for some reason. The child ate some fruit and biscuits,
and being thirsty she drank a glass of wine which stood nearly filled.
It was sweet, and she did not know how strong it was. Very soon it
made her intensely drowsy, and she went back to her nursery and shut
herself in again, frightened by cries she heard in the huts and by the
hurrying sound of feet. The wine made her so sleepy that she could
scarcely keep her eyes open and she lay down on her bed and knew
nothing more for a long time.

Many things happened during the hours in which she slept so heavily,
but she was not disturbed by the wails and the sound of things being
carried in and out of the bungalow.

When she awakened she lay and stared at the wall. The house was
perfectly still. She had never known it to be so silent before. She
heard neither voices nor footsteps, and wondered if everybody had got
well of the cholera and all the trouble was over. She wondered also
who would take care of her now her Ayah was dead. There would be a new
Ayah, and perhaps she would know some new stories. Mary had been
rather tired of the old ones. She did not cry because her nurse had
died. She was not an affectionate child and had never cared much for
any one. The noise and hurrying about and wailing over the cholera had
frightened her, and she had been angry because no one seemed to
remember that she was alive. Everyone was too panic-stricken to think
of a little girl no one was fond of. When people had the cholera it
seemed that they remembered nothing but themselves. But if everyone
had got well again, surely some one would remember and come to look for

But no one came, and as she lay waiting the house seemed to grow more
and more silent. She heard something rustling on the matting and when
she looked down she saw a little snake gliding along and watching her
with eyes like jewels. She was not frightened, because he was a
harmless little thing who would not hurt her and he seemed in a hurry
to get out of the room. He slipped under the door as she watched him.

"How queer and quiet it is," she said. "It sounds as if there were no
one in the bungalow but me and the snake."

Almost the next minute she heard footsteps in the compound, and then on
the veranda. They were men's footsteps, and the men entered the
bungalow and talked in low voices. No one went to meet or speak to
them and they seemed to open doors and look into rooms. "What
desolation!" she heard one voice say. "That pretty, pretty woman! I
suppose the child, too. I heard there was a child, though no one ever
saw her."

Mary was standing in the middle of the nursery when they opened the
door a few minutes later. She looked an ugly, cross little thing and
was frowning because she was beginning to be hungry and feel
disgracefully neglected. The first man who came in was a large officer
she had once seen talking to her father. He looked tired and troubled,
but when he saw her he was so startled that he almost jumped back.

"Barney!" he cried out. "There is a child here! A child alone! In a
place like this! Mercy on us, who is she!"

"I am Mary Lennox," the little girl said, drawing herself up stiffly.
She thought the man was very rude to call her father's bungalow "A
place like this!" "I fell asleep when everyone had the cholera and I
have only just wakened up. Why does nobody come?"

"It is the child no one ever saw!" exclaimed the man, turning to his
companions. "She has actually been forgotten!"

"Why was I forgotten?" Mary said, stamping her foot. "Why does nobody

The young man whose name was Barney looked at her very sadly. Mary
even thought she saw him wink his eyes as if to wink tears away.

"Poor little kid!" he said. "There is nobody left to come."

It was in that strange and sudden way that Mary found out that she had
neither father nor mother left; that they had died and been carried
away in the night, and that the few native servants who had not died
also had left the house as quickly as they could get out of it, none of
them even remembering that there was a Missie Sahib. That was why the
place was so quiet. It was true that there was no one in the bungalow
but herself and the little rustling snake.