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Chapter 9 The strangest house any one ever lived in

  • It was the sweetest, most mysterious-looking place any one could imagine. Th_igh walls which shut it in were covered with the leafless stems of climbin_oses which were so thick that they were matted together. Mary Lennox kne_hey were roses because she had seen a great many roses in India. All th_round was covered with grass of a wintry brown and out of it grew clumps o_ushes which were surely rosebushes if they were alive. There were numbers o_tandard roses which had so spread their branches that they were like littl_rees. There were other trees in the garden, and one of the things which mad_he place look strangest and loveliest was that climbing roses had run al_ver them and swung down long tendrils which made light swaying curtains, an_ere and there they had caught at each other or at a far-reaching branch an_ad crept from one tree to another and made lovely bridges of themselves.
  • There were neither leaves nor roses on them now and Mary did not know whethe_hey were dead or alive, but their thin gray or brown branches and spray_ooked like a sort of hazy mantle spreading over everything, walls, and trees, and even brown grass, where they had fallen from their fastenings and ru_long the ground. It was this hazy tangle from tree to tree which made it al_ook so mysterious. Mary had thought it must be different from other garden_hich had not been left all by themselves so long; and indeed it was differen_rom any other place she had ever seen in her life.
  • "How still it is!" she whispered. "How still!"
  • Then she waited a moment and listened at the stillness. The robin, who ha_lown to his treetop, was still as all the rest. He did not even flutter hi_ings; he sat without stirring, and looked at Mary.
  • "No wonder it is still," she whispered again. "I am the first person who ha_poken in here for ten years."
  • She moved away from the door, stepping as softly as if she were afraid o_wakening some one. She was glad that there was grass under her feet and tha_er steps made no sounds. She walked under one of the fairy-like gray arche_etween the trees and looked up at the sprays and tendrils which formed them.
  • "I wonder if they are all quite dead," she said. "Is it all a quite dea_arden? I wish it wasn't."
  • If she had been Ben Weatherstaff she could have told whether the wood wa_live by looking at it, but she could only see that there were only gray o_rown sprays and branches and none showed any signs of even a tiny leaf-bu_nywhere.
  • But she was inside the wonderful garden and she could come through the doo_nder the ivy any time and she felt as if she had found a world all her own.
  • The sun was shining inside the four walls and the high arch of blue sky ove_his particular piece of Misselthwaite seemed even more brilliant and sof_han it was over the moor. The robin flew down from his tree-top and hoppe_bout or flew after her from one bush to another. He chirped a good deal an_ad a very busy air, as if he were showing her things. Everything was strang_nd silent and she seemed to be hundreds of miles away from any one, bu_omehow she did not feel lonely at all. All that troubled her was her wis_hat she knew whether all the roses were dead, or if perhaps some of them ha_ived and might put out leaves and buds as the weather got warmer. She did no_ant it to be a quite dead garden. If it were a quite alive garden, ho_onderful it would be, and what thousands of roses would grow on every side!
  • Her skipping-rope had hung over her arm when she came in and after she ha_alked about for a while she thought she would skip round the whole garden, stopping when she wanted to look at things. There seemed to have been gras_aths here and there, and in one or two corners there were alcoves o_vergreen with stone seats or tall moss-covered flower urns in them.
  • As she came near the second of these alcoves she stopped skipping. There ha_nce been a flowerbed in it, and she thought she saw something sticking out o_he black earth—some sharp little pale green points. She remembered what Be_eatherstaff had said and she knelt down to look at them.
  • "Yes, they are tiny growing things and they might be crocuses or snowdrops o_affodils," she whispered.
  • She bent very close to them and sniffed the fresh scent of the damp earth. Sh_iked it very much.
  • "Perhaps there are some other ones coming up in other places," she said. "_ill go all over the garden and look."
  • She did not skip, but walked. She went slowly and kept her eyes on the ground.
  • She looked in the old border beds and among the grass, and after she had gon_ound, trying to miss nothing, she had found ever so many more sharp, pal_reen points, and she had become quite excited again.
  • "It isn't a quite dead garden," she cried out softly to herself. "Even if th_oses are dead, there are other things alive."
  • She did not know anything about gardening, but the grass seemed so thick i_ome of the places where the green points were pushing their way through tha_he thought they did not seem to have room enough to grow. She searched abou_ntil she found a rather sharp piece of wood and knelt down and dug and weede_ut the weeds and grass until she made nice little clear places around them.
  • "Now they look as if they could breathe," she said, after she had finishe_ith the first ones. "I am going to do ever so many more. I'll do all I ca_ee. If I haven't time today I can come tomorrow."
  • She went from place to place, and dug and weeded, and enjoyed herself s_mmensely that she was led on from bed to bed and into the grass under th_rees. The exercise made her so warm that she first threw her coat off, an_hen her hat, and without knowing it she was smiling down on to the grass an_he pale green points all the time.
  • The robin was tremendously busy. He was very much pleased to see gardenin_egun on his own estate. He had often wondered at Ben Weatherstaff. Wher_ardening is done all sorts of delightful things to eat are turned up with th_oil. Now here was this new kind of creature who was not half Ben's size an_et had had the sense to come into his garden and begin at once.
  • Mistress Mary worked in her garden until it was time to go to her midda_inner. In fact, she was rather late in remembering, and when she put on he_oat and hat, and picked up her skipping-rope, she could not believe that sh_ad been working two or three hours. She had been actually happy all the time; and dozens and dozens of the tiny, pale green points were to be seen i_leared places, looking twice as cheerful as they had looked before when th_rass and weeds had been smothering them.
  • "I shall come back this afternoon," she said, looking all round at her ne_ingdom, and speaking to the trees and the rose-bushes as if they heard her.
  • Then she ran lightly across the grass, pushed open the slow old door an_lipped through it under the ivy. She had such red cheeks and such bright eye_nd ate such a dinner that Martha was delighted.
  • "Two pieces o' meat an' two helps o' rice puddin'!" she said. "Eh! mother wil_e pleased when I tell her what th' skippin'-rope's done for thee."
  • In the course of her digging with her pointed stick Mistress Mary had foun_erself digging up a sort of white root rather like an onion. She had put i_ack in its place and patted the earth carefully down on it and just now sh_ondered if Martha could tell her what it was.
  • "Martha," she said, "what are those white roots that look like onions?"
  • "They're bulbs," answered Martha. "Lots o' spring flowers grow from 'em. Th'
  • very little ones are snowdrops an' crocuses an' th' big ones are narcissuse_n' jonquils and daffydowndillys. Th' biggest of all is lilies an' purpl_lags. Eh! they are nice. Dickon's got a whole lot of 'em planted in our bi_' garden."
  • "Does Dickon know all about them?" asked Mary, a new idea taking possession o_er.
  • "Our Dickon can make a flower grow out of a brick walk. Mother says he jus_hispers things out o' th' ground."
  • "Do bulbs live a long time? Would they live years and years if no one helpe_hem?" inquired Mary anxiously.
  • "They're things as helps themselves," said Martha. "That's why poor folk ca_fford to have 'em. If you don't trouble 'em, most of 'em'll work awa_nderground for a lifetime an' spread out an' have little 'uns. There's _lace in th' park woods here where there's snowdrops by thousands. They're th_rettiest sight in Yorkshire when th' spring comes. No one knows when they wa_irst planted."
  • "I wish the spring was here now," said Mary. "I want to see all the thing_hat grow in England."
  • She had finished her dinner and gone to her favorite seat on the hearth-rug.
  • "I wish—I wish I had a little spade," she said. "Whatever does tha' want _pade for?" asked Martha, laughing. "Art tha' goin' to take to diggin'? I mus_ell mother that, too."
  • Mary looked at the fire and pondered a little. She must be careful if sh_eant to keep her secret kingdom. She wasn't doing any harm, but if Mr. Crave_ound out about the open door he would be fearfully angry and get a new ke_nd lock it up forevermore. She really could not bear that.
  • "This is such a big lonely place," she said slowly, as if she were turnin_atters over in her mind. "The house is lonely, and the park is lonely, an_he gardens are lonely. So many places seem shut up. I never did many thing_n India, but there were more people to look at—natives and soldiers marchin_y—and sometimes bands playing, and my Ayah told me stories. There is no on_o talk to here except you and Ben Weatherstaff. And you have to do your wor_nd Ben Weatherstaff won't speak to me often. I thought if I had a littl_pade I could dig somewhere as he does, and I might make a little garden if h_ould give me some seeds."
  • Martha's face quite lighted up.
  • "There now!" she exclaimed, "if that wasn't one of th' things mother said. Sh_ays, 'There's such a lot o' room in that big place, why don't they give her _it for herself, even if she doesn't plant nothin' but parsley an' radishes?
  • She'd dig an' rake away an' be right down happy over it.' Them was the ver_ords she said."
  • "Were they?" said Mary. "How many things she knows, doesn't she?"
  • "Eh!" said Martha. "It's like she says: 'A woman as brings up twelve childre_earns something besides her A B C. Children's as good as 'rithmetic to se_ou findin' out things.'"
  • "How much would a spade cost—a little one?" Mary asked.
  • "Well," was Martha's reflective answer, "at Thwaite village there's a shop o_o an' I saw little garden sets with a spade an' a rake an' a fork all tie_ogether for two shillings. An' they was stout enough to work with, too."
  • "I've got more than that in my purse," said Mary. "Mrs. Morrison gave me fiv_hillings and Mrs. Medlock gave me some money from Mr. Craven."
  • "Did he remember thee that much?" exclaimed Martha.
  • "Mrs. Medlock said I was to have a shilling a week to spend. She gives me on_very Saturday. I didn't know what to spend it on."
  • "My word! that's riches," said Martha. "Tha' can buy anything in th' worl_ha' wants. Th' rent of our cottage is only one an' threepence an' it's lik_ullin' eye-teeth to get it. Now I've just thought of somethin'," putting he_ands on her hips.
  • "What?" said Mary eagerly.
  • "In the shop at Thwaite they sell packages o' flower-seeds for a penny each, and our Dickon he knows which is th' prettiest ones an' how to make 'em grow.
  • He walks over to Thwaite many a day just for th' fun of it. Does tha' know ho_o print letters?" suddenly.
  • "I know how to write," Mary answered.
  • Martha shook her head.
  • "Our Dickon can only read printin'. If tha' could print we could write _etter to him an' ask him to go an' buy th' garden tools an' th' seeds at th'
  • same time."
  • "Oh! you're a good girl!" Mary cried. "You are, really! I didn't know you wer_o nice. I know I can print letters if I try. Let's ask Mrs. Medlock for a pe_nd ink and some paper."
  • "I've got some of my own," said Martha. "I bought 'em so I could print a bi_f a letter to mother of a Sunday. I'll go and get it." She ran out of th_oom, and Mary stood by the fire and twisted her thin little hands togethe_ith sheer pleasure.
  • "If I have a spade," she whispered, "I can make the earth nice and soft an_ig up weeds. If I have seeds and can make flowers grow the garden won't b_ead at all—it will come alive."
  • She did not go out again that afternoon because when Martha returned with he_en and ink and paper she was obliged to clear the table and carry the plate_nd dishes downstairs and when she got into the kitchen Mrs. Medlock was ther_nd told her to do something, so Mary waited for what seemed to her a lon_ime before she came back. Then it was a serious piece of work to write t_ickon. Mary had been taught very little because her governesses had dislike_er too much to stay with her. She could not spell particularly well but sh_ound that she could print letters when she tried. This was the letter Marth_ictated to her: "My Dear Dickon:
  • This comes hoping to find you well as it leaves me at present. Miss Mary ha_lenty of money and will you go to Thwaite and buy her some flower seeds and _et of garden tools to make a flower-bed. Pick the prettiest ones and easy t_row because she has never done it before and lived in India which i_ifferent. Give my love to mother and every one of you. Miss Mary is going t_ell me a lot more so that on my next day out you can hear about elephants an_amels and gentlemen going hunting lions and tigers.
  • "Your loving sister,     Martha Phoebe Sowerby."
  • "We'll put the money in th' envelope an' I'll get th' butcher boy to take i_n his cart. He's a great friend o' Dickon's," said Martha.
  • "How shall I get the things when Dickon buys them?"
  • "He'll bring 'em to you himself. He'll like to walk over this way."
  • "Oh!" exclaimed Mary, "then I shall see him! I never thought I should se_ickon."
  • "Does tha' want to see him?" asked Martha suddenly, for Mary had looked s_leased.
  • "Yes, I do. I never saw a boy foxes and crows loved. I want to see him ver_uch."
  • Martha gave a little start, as if she remembered something. "Now to think,"
  • she broke out, "to think o' me forgettin' that there; an' I thought I wa_oin' to tell you first thing this mornin'. I asked mother—and she said she'_sk Mrs. Medlock her own self."
  • "Do you mean—" Mary began.
  • "What I said Tuesday. Ask her if you might be driven over to our cottage som_ay and have a bit o' mother's hot oat cake, an' butter, an' a glass o' milk."
  • It seemed as if all the interesting things were happening in one day. To thin_f going over the moor in the daylight and when the sky was blue! To think o_oing into the cottage which held twelve children!
  • "Does she think Mrs. Medlock would let me go?" she asked, quite anxiously.
  • "Aye, she thinks she would. She knows what a tidy woman mother is and ho_lean she keeps the cottage."
  • "If I went I should see your mother as well as Dickon," said Mary, thinking i_ver and liking the idea very much. "She doesn't seem to be like the mother_n India."
  • Her work in the garden and the excitement of the afternoon ended by making he_eel quiet and thoughtful. Martha stayed with her until tea-time, but they sa_n comfortable quiet and talked very little. But just before Martha wen_ownstairs for the tea-tray, Mary asked a question.
  • "Martha," she said, "has the scullery-maid had the toothache again today?"
  • Martha certainly started slightly.
  • "What makes thee ask that?" she said.
  • "Because when I waited so long for you to come back I opened the door an_alked down the corridor to see if you were coming. And I heard that far-of_rying again, just as we heard it the other night. There isn't a wind today, so you see it couldn't have been the wind."
  • "Eh!" said Martha restlessly. "Tha' mustn't go walkin' about in corridors an'
  • listenin'. Mr. Craven would be that there angry there's no knowin' what he'_o."
  • "I wasn't listening," said Mary. "I was just waiting for you—and I heard it.
  • That's three times."
  • "My word! There's Mrs. Medlock's bell," said Martha, and she almost ran out o_he room.
  • "It's the strangest house any one ever lived in," said Mary drowsily, as sh_ropped her head on the cushioned seat of the armchair near her. Fresh air, and digging, and skipping-rope had made her feel so comfortably tired that sh_ell asleep.