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Mary found the whole business distasteful but she had no earthly reason to reject Sir Howard Harris's proposal of marriage. Sir Harris was an older gentleman, in his early 50's, with a fine house and income. He was highly educated, enjoyed books and lived a quiet life in his estate about 50 miles away from Misselthwaite.
The further the better, thought Mary. This was going to be difficult enough as it was already.
Mary was only twenty-five but the townspeople were already speaking of her in spinster terms. Mary had never really grown very pretty; same thin brown hair, small features, and a generally quiet way about her. She was not one for parties or dances, and would still much rather spend time on her own in her gardens.
Still, the town talk began to worry her. She could not stay at Misselthwaite forever. Mary got on very well with Colin and his wife Diana, but it was their home now. Mary could not intrude upon their kindness or their barely adequate living forever. And soon their boys would grow up, and need expensive schooling and barouches. They would probably have girls someday as well, who would need dowries and ribbons and oh, Mary couldn't take that away from them.
So, when Sir Howard Harris came to press his suit, Mary encouraged him very gently. He didn't bring her chocolates or other such frivolous things. Mary liked that about him. Practical. She wasn't in love with him, not by far, but she thought that in time she might grow to care for him in some degree. And so when he proposed, Mary smiled with her lips and gave a very pretty assent.
"Your cousin tells me you are very fond of gardens…I am afraid my own residence is sorely lacking in that area. But you must feel free to have a landscaper out to make something up."
Mary thanked him, but said that she was no longer interested in gardening. This surprised Sir Harris, he had heard all accounts to the contrary. However, he put the thought away without compunction and moved onto other plans.
After the engagement was announced, Mary did not leave the Manor unless it was to the front steps to be picked up immediately by the carriage. She stopped coming downstairs for dinner at about that time too. She didn't have much enthusiasm for food anymore, she found. When invited for a walk by her cousin or Martha, she would politely decline, saying she had much preparation to attend to in regards to her wedding in August.
Instead of planning however, she spent most of her time at the window in her bedroom staring at the draperies, which hid the windows in her room. Beyond the draperies, she knew, would be the blessed moor, stretching into the distance as far as her she could see. And she knew that he would be there, calling her to him wordlessly, asking her to come join him.
Mary was relieved when Martha chattily told her of her mother's plans to gift Mary with two goose feather pillows for her wedding. That everyone in her family had discussed round the dinner table last weekend what to give Miss Mary.
So then, he must know by now.
She had dreaded the thought of his reaction to the news of her engagement. She hoped that whomever had told him had done it in passing and not to his face, that he would not have had to forge a phony smile. Now that he knew, at least, it was better a little.
She felt ill to the very core of her stomach, and lost her appetite for good that day.
It was only by complete denial that Mary made it through the rest of the engagement period without running to her garden, running to him. He had questions for her, she knew, but seeing as she had no answers, a meeting would be futile. Instead she prepared the last of her dowry bits and had the dressmaker out to do a final fitting. She survived only on tea and her own iron will.
Sir Harris visited only a time or two during the engagement as the journey was so taxing. Once was just a few days before the wedding, to supervise the removal of Mary's belongings to his own home. All she kept at Misselthwaite were a few clothes, some toiletries, and a book for amusement. Nothing that reminded her of memories best forgotten.
Mary was never sure what possessed her to wake up so suddenly the night before her marriage. But she sat up straight in her bed, and knew that something was happening. She ran to her window and looked out to see billowing smoke and glowing embers from the East Gardens. From her garden. She knew that as surely as she knew her own name. Though there was no way of seeing specifically which garden it was.
She padded down the steps, not taking time to toss on slippers or a dress or even a robe over her finely made white nightgown. She slid out the servant's entrance and ran to the garden, the smoke from the fire burning her throat. It was August, and the grass was brittle under her feet, the flowers parched from the passing of summer.
The door to the garden wasn't hot to the touch, so Mary grunted and pushed it open. Five months since she had entered the garden, and the flowers inside where just as dry as the ones out of it. The entire west wall of the garden was on fire, little flames hungrily licking up the ivy vines, and grabbing at the edges of the grass.
And there, lighting her favorite lavender bush with a torch in his hand was Dickon Sowerby.
"Dickon!" Mary screamed. "Dickon you great idiot!" Strange that anger was the first emotion to explode out of her at the sight of him.
Dickon spun around. He was sooty faced, covered in ash, all down the front of him, rivulets of sweat poured off of his face.
"What are you doing? Burning my garden! Burning everything we worked for?" Her voice broke on the word 'everything'. "We…we have our happy memories here…don't destroy them."
He said nothing, but threw the torch as hard as he could at the biggest tree in the garden, the one that Mary loved so much, the one that gently held a swing where they had spent hours together, heads knocked against one another.
Dickon stalked over to her. Stood right in front of her, as he'd done many times before. He looked…angry. She never thought she'd see such a horrible, ugly emotion etched on his face. He spoke in a terrible voice, one she had never heard him use before.
"I wish to hell and earth I'd never met thee."
"Oh…oh, Dickon. I had no choi-"
"Stop it!" He grabbed her by the shoulders, and it was only then that the horribly bittersweet memories coursed over her, of times when he'd held her before, kissed her gently, and told her that nothing else mattered to him in the world, as long as he had her in his arms and the blue sky above them. "There's always a choice! Not an easy one, but a choice to be made all th' same!"
"Dickon, I have no choice! I have no way of supporting myself, and I cannot be a burden on Colin any longer! I must have my own place in this world!"
"Here's your place." Dickon spoke very low.
"A garden! A garden is not a home!" Mary was close to hysterical.
"It is to me! It was to me!"
"Dickon, I can't live like that…can't live like you, on the moor. Or in a gardener's shack."
He let go of her shoulders and looked at the ground. "I've gotten you sooty."
She looked mournfully at her blazing garden, then back at Dickon. He'd burned her garden…burned plants that he loved like children. Destroyed life, something she'd have never thought possible.
Mary was biting back the tears with the last amounts of energy she had. "It's all right."
Dickon continued to look down for a minute or two. Mary thought perhaps he had given up and seen the truth in what she had told him.
When he did speak, it was very soft.
"You told me…so many of your dreams…an' that's all they were to you, weren't they? Dreams! No one could tell me what you've told me in your life an' then turn around an' marry another man."
And she thought then of the words she'd spoken to him, that nothing would ever come between them, that she was his until her bones crumbled and the heavens tumbled out of the sky…that she'd live, die, and be buried next to him. The words still rang true, she realized. She still meant every one of them, even if she was another man's wife tomorrow.
Dickon had slowly sunk to his knees and buried his head in his hands.
Mary looked at the sky. The sparks from the fire were lifting off into the night, bright orange flecks dancing with the beautiful white stars.
She walked over to him, her toes sunken into the grass. Gently, she touched his head, ran her fingers through the twisty front part of his copper-colored hair.
"I can't live on borrowed time anymore, Dickon." And here is where she began to cry. "It was wrong…very wrong of me to have been…weak with you."
Dickon looked up at her, his eyes burning into hers. He stood and started to pull her closer, but she pushed him away.
"Dickon…don't…it will only make it harder." Her face crumpled again and she raised her hands to her face.
"Mary…" he said, in a soft voice.
"No!" She almost shouted, and turned and ran back to the manor as fast as she could.
Sir Harris dislikes most of his immediate family. They are boisterous and rowdy, and Sir Harris has long ago realised that he was a man made for quiet contemplation. His wife's family is a sedate lot, the children well behaved, the libraries at her palatial home well stocked, her cousin and his wife pleasant company. So for Christmas and the New Year, and any other holiday's incidental, they travel to Misselthwaite.
His wife still opposes all of these ventures, though she is quick to suggest that her family come to them. However she never has a good reason, or any reason at all for opposing the plan. After Sir Harris points this out to her, she usually nods and assents. So they go, but their visits to Misselthwaite follow a very set pattern.
Mary will be the first out of the carriage, and the last to get in. She will be quiet and rather pale, and she will morosely sit for hours alone in her old room, staring at the draped windows. She never leaves the house in the time they are there, not even to visit the garden she so dearly loved, not even to show Sir Harris where it was. At first Sir Harris thought this odd, but he is a patient man and did not push the issue. After a few years, however, Sir Harris insists on seeing the garden the next time they visit. Mary agrees, but instead she sends her young nephew Thomas as tour guide.
He is a nice enough lad of eight. They travel onto the grounds and into the East Gardens, where a very stark stone box stands. Thomas pulls a key out of his pocket and unlocks a heavy oak door.
Inside, Sir Harris surveys the garden. It is a hideous patch of dirt and rotten brambles, dusty brush and dead ivy caught at the edges of the walls. Bare patches of caked mud show through the patchy grass. There is what was once a pond, now half filled with sludge and sticks.
"The place looked ever so much better before," chatters young Thomas.
"Before?" says Sir Harris.
"Before it got all burned," says Thomas, as he kicks at a dried clump of moss.
'When was that?"
"Oh, the night before Aunt Mary got married."
"Really? What was the cause of the fire?"
"Mmm, dunno," says young Thomas. "At first father thought she'd done it 'cos she couldn't bear to leave it. But she cried so, cried for hours after it was all burned."
"Why do they not rebuild it? Seems as though it could be replanted easily enough," says Sir Harris.
"I guess it could," says Thomas. He throws a small rock into the pond where it splashes with a glump. "But Aunt Mary made father promise to never plant another thing in here, ever. She said it's dead and gone forever, and it's time to let it be forgotten."