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Chapter 24 "Let them laugh"

  • The secret garden was not the only one Dickon worked in. Round the cottage o_he 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 Coli_nd Mary did not see him, Dickon worked there planting or tending potatoes an_abbages, 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 o_alked to Soot or Captain or the brothers and sisters he had taught to hel_im.
  • "We'd never get on as comfortable as we do," Mrs. Sowerby said, "if it wasn'_or Dickon's garden. Anything'll grow for him. His 'taters and cabbages i_wice th' size of any one else's an' they've got a flavor with 'em as nobody'_as."
  • When she found a moment to spare she liked to go out and talk to him. Afte_upper there was still a long clear twilight to work in and that was her quie_ime. She could sit upon the low rough wall and look on and hear stories o_he 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 brigh_weet-scented things among gooseberry bushes and even cabbages and he gre_orders of mignonette and pinks and pansies and things whose seeds he coul_ave year after year or whose roots would bloom each spring and spread in tim_nto fine clumps. The low wall was one of the prettiest things in Yorkshir_ecause he had tucked moorland foxglove and ferns and rock-cress and hedgero_lowers into every crevice until only here and there glimpses of the stone_ere to be seen.
  • "All a chap's got to do to make 'em thrive, mother," he would say, "is to b_riends with 'em for sure. They're just like th' 'creatures.' If they'r_hirsty give 'em drink and if they're hungry give 'em a bit o' food. They wan_o live same as we do. If they died I should feel as if I'd been a bad lad an_omehow treated them heartless."
  • It was in these twilight hours that Mrs. Sowerby heard of all that happened a_isselthwaite Manor. At first she was only told that "Mester Colin" had take_ fancy to going out into the grounds with Miss Mary and that it was doing hi_ood. But it was not long before it was agreed between the two children tha_ickon's mother might "come into the secret." Somehow it was not doubted tha_he was "safe for sure."
  • So one beautiful still evening Dickon told the whole story, with all th_hrilling details of the buried key and the robin and the gray haze which ha_eemed 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 Meste_olin and the final drama of his introduction to the hidden domain, combine_ith the incident of Ben Weatherstaff's angry face peering over the wall an_ester Colin's sudden indignant strength, made Mrs. Sowerby's nice-lookin_ace 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 i_im."
  • 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' neve_omplainin'?" she inquired. "They don't know what to make of it," answere_ickon. "Every day as comes round his face looks different. It's fillin' ou_nd doesn't look so sharp an' th' waxy color is goin'. But he has to do hi_it 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 kne_e'd found out he could stand on his feet he'd likely write and tell Meste_raven. Mester Colin's savin' th' secret to tell himself. He's goin' t_ractise his Magic on his legs every day till his father comes back an' the_e'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 finishe_is last sentence.
  • "Eh!" she said, "that pair's enjoyin' their-selves I'll warrant. They'll get _ood bit o' actin' out of it an' there's nothin' children likes as much a_lay actin'. Let's hear what they do, Dickon lad." Dickon stopped weeding an_at 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," h_xplained. "An' he flies out at John, th' footman, for not carryin' hi_areful enough. He makes himself as helpless lookin' as he can an' never lift_is head until we're out o' sight o' th' house. An' he grunts an' frets a goo_it when he's bein' settled into his chair. Him an' Miss Mary's both got t_njoyin' it an' when he groans an' complains she'll say, 'Poor Colin! Does i_urt you so much? Are you so weak as that, poor Colin?'—but th' trouble i_hat sometimes they can scarce keep from burstin' out laughin'. When we ge_afe 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 th_ardeners from hearin', if any of, 'em's about."
  • "Th' more they laugh th' better for 'em!" said Mrs. Sowerby, still laughin_erself. "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 ho_o get enough to eat without makin' talk. Mester Colin says if he keep_endin' for more food they won't believe he's an invalid at all. Miss Mar_ays she'll let him eat her share, but he says that if she goes hungry she'l_et thin an' they mun both get fat at once."
  • Mrs. Sowerby laughed so heartily at the revelation of this difficulty that sh_uite rocked backward and forward in her blue cloak, and Dickon laughed wit_er.
  • "I'll tell thee what, lad," Mrs. Sowerby said when she could speak. "I'v_hought of a way to help 'em. When tha' goes to 'em in th' mornin's tha' shal_ake a pail o' good new milk an' I'll bake 'em a crusty cottage loaf or som_uns wi' currants in 'em, same as you children like. Nothin's so good as fres_ilk an' bread. Then they could take off th' edge o' their hunger while the_ere 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' alway_ees a way out o' things. They was quite in a pother yesterday. They didn'_ee how they was to manage without orderin' up more food—they felt that empt_nside."
  • "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! bu_hey're enjoyin' theirselves for sure," she said.
  • She was quite right, the comfortable wonderful mother creature—and she ha_ever 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 unconsciousl_uggested 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 on_ay. "You used to eat nothing, and so many things disagreed with you."
  • "Nothing disagrees with me now" replied Colin, and then seeing the nurs_ooking at him curiously he suddenly remembered that perhaps he ought not t_ppear 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 mystifie_xpression. "But I must talk to Dr. Craven about it."
  • "How she stared at you!" said Mary when she went away. "As if she though_here must be something to find out."
  • "I won't have her finding out things," said Colin. "No one must begin to fin_ut yet." When Dr. Craven came that morning he seemed puzzled, also. He aske_ 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 _ike. Every one has orders to keep out of the way. I won't be watched an_tared at. You know that!"
  • "You seem to be out all day but I do not think it has done you harm—I do no_hink so. The nurse says that you eat much more than you have ever don_efore."
  • "Perhaps," said Colin, prompted by a sudden inspiration, "perhaps it is a_nnatural 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 _iscouraging air of gloom. "People who are not going to live ar_ften—different." Dr. Craven shook his head. He was holding Colin's wrist an_e pushed up his sleeve and felt his arm.
  • "You are not feverish," he said thoughtfully, "and such flesh as you hav_ained 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 disappoin_im if I get worse again—and I may get worse this very night. I might have _aging fever. I feel as if I might be beginning to have one now. I won't hav_etters written to my father—I won't—I won't! You are making me angry and yo_now that is bad for me. I feel hot already. I hate being written about an_eing talked over as much as I hate being stared at!"
  • "Hush-h! my boy," Dr. Craven soothed him. "Nothing shall be written withou_our permission. You are too sensitive about things. You must not undo th_ood which has been done."
  • He said no more about writing to Mr. Craven and when he saw the nurse h_rivately warned her that such a possibility must not be mentioned to th_atient.
  • "The boy is extraordinarily better," he said. "His advance seems almos_bnormal. But of course he is doing now of his own free will what we could no_ake him do before. Still, he excites himself very easily and nothing must b_aid to irritate him." Mary and Colin were much alarmed and talked togethe_nxiously. From this time dated their plan of "play actin'."
  • "I may be obliged to have a tantrum," said Colin regretfully. "I don't want t_ave 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 no_nd I keep thinking of nice things instead of horrible ones. But if they tal_bout writing to my father I shall have to do something."
  • He made up his mind to eat less, but unfortunately it was not possible t_arry out this brilliant idea when he wakened each morning with an amazin_ppetite and the table near his sofa was set with a breakfast of home-mad_read and fresh butter, snow-white eggs, raspberry jam and clotted cream. Mar_lways breakfasted with him and when they found themselves at th_able—particularly if there were delicate slices of sizzling ham sending fort_empting odors from under a hot silver cover—they would look into each other'_yes in desperation.
  • "I think we shall have to eat it all this morning, Mary," Colin always ende_y saying. "We can send away some of the lunch and a great deal of th_inner."
  • But they never found they could send away anything and the highly polishe_ondition 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 sh_eard this, "but it's not enough for a person who is going to live. _ometimes feel as if I could eat three when those nice fresh heather and gors_mells from the moor come pouring in at the open window."
  • The morning that Dickon—after they had been enjoying themselves in the garde_or about two hours—went behind a big rosebush and brought forth two tin pail_nd 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 an_hite napkin, buns so carefully tucked in that they were still hot, there wa_ riot of surprised joyfulness. What a wonderful thing for Mrs. Sowerby t_hink of! What a kind, clever woman she must be! How good the buns were! An_hat delicious fresh milk!
  • "Magic is in her just as it is in Dickon," said Colin. "It makes her think o_ays to do things—nice things. She is a Magic person. Tell her we ar_rateful, Dickon—extremely grateful." He was given to using rather grown-u_hrases at times. He enjoyed them. He liked this so much that he improved upo_t.
  • "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 an_rank milk out of the pail in copious draughts in the manner of any hungr_ittle boy who had been taking unusual exercise and breathing in moorland ai_nd whose breakfast was more than two hours behind him.
  • This was the beginning of many agreeable incidents of the same kind. The_ctually awoke to the fact that as Mrs. Sowerby had fourteen people to provid_ood 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 th_arden where Mary had first found him piping to the wild creatures there was _eep little hollow where you could build a sort of tiny oven with stones an_oast potatoes and eggs in it. Roasted eggs were a previously unknown luxur_nd very hot potatoes with salt and fresh butter in them were fit for _oodland king—besides being deliciously satisfying. You could buy bot_otatoes and eggs and eat as many as you liked without feeling as if you wer_aking food out of the mouths of fourteen people.
  • Every beautiful morning the Magic was worked by the mystic circle under th_lum-tree which provided a canopy of thickening green leaves after its brie_lossom-time was ended. After the ceremony Colin always took his walkin_xercise and throughout the day he exercised his newly found power a_ntervals. Each day he grew stronger and could walk more steadily and cove_ore ground. And each day his belief in the Magic grew stronger—as well i_ight. He tried one experiment after another as he felt himself gainin_trength and it was Dickon who showed him the best things of all.
  • "Yesterday," he said one morning after an absence, "I went to Thwaite fo_other an' near th' Blue Cow Inn I seed Bob Haworth. He's the strongest cha_n th' moor. He's the champion wrestler an' he can jump higher than any othe_hap 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 _riendly sort an' I axed him some questions. Th' gentry calls him a athlet_nd 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' s_trong?' An' he says 'Well, yes, lad, I did. A strong man in a show that cam_o Thwaite once showed me how to exercise my arms an' legs an' every muscle i_y 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 wis_ knowed some o' them tricks to tell him about.' I didn't say no names an' h_idn't ask none. He's friendly same as I said an' he stood up an' showed m_ood-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 'e_entle 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 mos_agic boy in the world!"
  • Dickon stood up on the grass and slowly went through a carefully practical bu_imple series of muscle exercises. Colin watched them with widening eyes. H_ould do a few while he was sitting down. Presently he did a few gently whil_e stood upon his already steadied feet. Mary began to do them also. Soot, wh_as watching the performance, became much disturbed and left his branch an_opped about restlessly because he could not do them too.
  • From that time the exercises were part of the day's duties as much as th_agic was. It became possible for both Colin and Mary to do more of them eac_ime they tried, and such appetites were the results that but for the baske_ickon put down behind the bush each morning when he arrived they would hav_een lost. But the little oven in the hollow and Mrs. Sowerby's bounties wer_o satisfying that Mrs. Medlock and the nurse and Dr. Craven became mystifie_gain. You can trifle with your breakfast and seem to disdain your dinner i_ou are full to the brim with roasted eggs and potatoes and richly frothed ne_ilk and oatcakes and buns and heather honey and clotted cream.
  • "They are eating next to nothing," said the nurse. "They'll die of starvatio_f they can't be persuaded to take some nourishment. And yet see how the_ook."
  • "Look!" exclaimed Mrs. Medlock indignantly. "Eh! I'm moithered to death wit_hem. They're a pair of young Satans. Bursting their jackets one day and th_ext turning up their noses at the best meals Cook can tempt them with. Not _outhful of that lovely young fowl and bread sauce did they set a fork int_esterday—and the poor woman fair invented a pudding for them—and back it'_ent. She almost cried. She's afraid she'll be blamed if they starv_hemselves into their graves."
  • Dr. Craven came and looked at Colin long and carefully, He wore an extremel_orried expression when the nurse talked with him and showed him the almos_ntouched tray of breakfast she had saved for him to look at—but it was eve_ore worried when he sat down by Colin's sofa and examined him. He had bee_alled 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 ting_ad left, Colins skin and a warm rose showed through it; his beautiful eye_ere clear and the hollows under them and in his cheeks and temples had fille_ut. His once dark, heavy locks had begun to look as if they sprang healthil_rom his forehead and were soft and warm with life. His lips were fuller an_f a normal color. In fact as an imitation of a boy who was a confirme_nvalid he was a disgraceful sight. Dr. Craven held his chin in his hand an_hought 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 s_ell 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 soun_hich 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 reproachfu_ignity, "and it got into my throat."
  • "But," she said afterward to Colin, "I couldn't stop myself. It just burst ou_ecause all at once I couldn't help remembering that last big potato you at_nd the way your mouth stretched when you bit through that thick lovely crus_ith jam and clotted cream on it."
  • "Is there any way in which those children can get food secretly?" Dr. Crave_nquired 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 on_ut each other. And if they want anything different to eat from what's sent u_o them they need only ask for it."
  • "Well," said Dr. Craven, "so long as going without food agrees with them w_eed not disturb ourselves. The boy is a new creature."
  • "So is the girl," said Mrs. Medlock. "She's begun to be downright pretty sinc_he's filled out and lost her ugly little sour look. Her hair's grown thic_nd healthy looking and she's got a bright color. The glummest, ill-nature_ittle thing she used to be and now her and Master Colin laugh together like _air of crazy young ones. Perhaps they're growing fat on that."
  • "Perhaps they are," said Dr. Craven. "Let them laugh."