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'
"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.