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.
"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'
"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."