Author's Note: Mary x Dickon, from Archibald Craven's POV. Probably not accurate to Edwardian times, but I digress.
White Roses & True Love
Sunlight streamed in through the windows of the dining room as Archibald Craven slowly stirred two sugar cubes into his morning tea. It was a warm spring day of early April, and he was certain his fifteen-year-old niece was already in the gardens, as she usually was on such days.
Colin had left the previous fall to attend a prestigious private school and to prepare for his future education at a university. But Mary had remained at Misselthwaite, still appalled at the very idea of a governess or even the fact that she would have to continue taking lessons in French, History, Literature, and Etiquette while her cousin was away. She and Colin had started their preparatory lessons together at the age of twelve, but Mary complained that she didn't need or want them, even though Colin loved them.
Her misery at taking lessons was soothed only by the secret garden and the hours she spent there, enjoying the flowers, and planting, pruning, and playing. Lord Craven had made certain that Mary's lessons did not keep her from the one thing she truly loved, and he knew his niece was grateful to him for it. He did not wish her to be unhappy, and since the garden had healed all of them, he had resolved to be a better father and uncle.
Just as he expected, Mary came rushing into the dining room as the clock struck the hour of eight, breathless with excitement. Her face was flushed from running all the way from the ivy walk, a beautiful cream complexion tinted with soft pink. The sun had made her eyes bluer than gray, and they were over-bright and sparkling. There were several streaks of dirt on her gardening frock already, a worn cotton dress of light blue that fell just past halfway down her legs and was getting a little snug, as she was growing quickly into a lanky young teenager. Her hair, the color of butter, had been loosely braided, with a few tendrils already falling free.
"Good morning, Uncle Archie! Isn't it a perfectly lovely day? The lilies are starting to bloom and they're so beautiful! I vow I've never seen them so gorgeous as they are this year. I've spent all morning weeding around them, so they can grow even more. And Dickon's already seen the robin building a nest in the far corner under one of the alcoves! I can't wait to go back and find him! I must be careful though; you know how testy the robin is when he feels he has a secret to hide, though I think that surely, by now, he must trust us."
Archibald smiled at her cheerful talk, for it did remind him so much of Lilias. His wife had always been thrilled to discover the lilies in bloom, for they were her namesakes. And just as Mary enjoyed spending hours in the garden with Dickon, Lilias had loved spending hours there with Archibald. It made him feel good to know his niece was finding such happiness in a place where he had lost something so precious, but a place that was thriving again through the efforts of two young teenagers who adored it so. And Colin too, when he was at Misselthwaite.
Mary continued to chatter away happily, telling of all the tiny buds she had seen, and how the garden was changing to a more vivid green then the week before, and what she intended to do when breakfast was over, as she did not have lessons this day.
"...And when I came back up, I asked Dickon to join us for breakfast, but he said he would eat in the kitchen with the rest of the staff."
Lord Craven glanced up at his niece when she said this – she had sounded a bit sullen, and she looked confused and a little hurt. Dickon, at the age of seventeen, was an under-gardener at Misselthwaite and had a way that none of the other gardeners had with his work. Everything he touched grew twice, and Lord Craven admired him for his strange abilities and his kind ways. It was as though the lad could talk to any living thing, to tell them to grow for him, and they did. And Dickon had, after all, saved Colin's life. Archibald would never, ever forget that.
He said mildly, "I'm sure he simply wants to go back out again as soon as possible, Mary."
"Yes, he did say that."
But she didn't look pleased. She still looked a trifle hurt. He wondered if her feelings for Dickon were changing from friendship and companionship to something more – something that her fifteen-year-old heart was struggling to comprehend. He recalled the first time he had felt that way about Lilias, and how painful it was to think that perhaps she might not love a man who had a hunched back. It still hurt, in a way.
But by the time breakfast had concluded, Mary's expression had become one of cheer again, and she kissed her uncle's cheek before flying out of the room to return to her garden, promising to return in time for dinner. He chuckled as he heard a door shut at the far end of the corridor, which meant she had exited the manor onto the grounds. Then he sighed heavily and opened his paper to read the latest on the war. He wished he could have the carefree responsibilities that Mary had, but being an adult was far more complex than being a young girl.
However, just as he had started to scan the bleak front page, his formidable housekeeper, Mrs. Medlock, entered the room. Her lips were pursed together in a thin, tight line, and he could tell that she was in a mood. It never boded well if she looked the way she did, so, a bit carelessly and arrogantly, he said, "Yes, Medlock?" and hoped she would get the subtle message that he would prefer to be alone with his paper.
"Sir, if you'll please forgive me, but I just saw Miss Mary running out to the gardens again."
"Yes, she intends to spend the entire day in the garden. It is a fine morning, and she does not have lessons. The sunlight always does her such good."
Medlock looked truly flushed now, but not the way Mary had. On the older woman, her cheeks became blotchy and her eyes annoyed. This was not the answer she had expected, and she said hurriedly, "Yes, sir. But sir, if you don't mind my saying so... and I mean no offense, of course... Mary is fifteen, sir. I couldn't help but notice that the dress she's wearing is... well... a bit snug on her, sir." She truly was red and embarrassed now.
"Ah. Well, I imagine she does need some new clothes. I never seem to think about that. You may take her into the village this week to find some new ones, Medlock. Simple ones, though. I know she dislikes anything very fancy. She's made that point to me before. Something about her mother." He frowned slightly, recalling that only a year ago, Mary had coldly informed him she did not want to wear any gowns that were... How had she put it? Full of lace? It had something to do with Mrs. Lennox, but Archibald had not been able to get anything additional out of her, for whenever he asked about the issue, she wore her contrary expression. It was quite perplexing.
Unfortunately, Medlock was talking again, interrupting his thoughts.
"It isn't just that, sir," she said in an agitated manner. "Most girls of her status and background and age are in London or Bath, learning to become proper ladies. Sir, have you considered enrolling Mary in a finishing school? You just said you never think about these things. And with Colin away, surely she should also be learning proper manners and etiquette? She's growing up very quickly."
"Please, Medlock. I may not think of new clothes, but that is because she's always in the garden. On the other hand, I have thought of schooling. However, the girl objects to her lessons with a private tutor. She would have a fit if I told her I was sending her to London. She would despise me, I believe."
"It isn't necessarily a question of what the girl wants, sir. Or how she feels on the matter. She needs to become a proper lady. How will she meet a proper gentleman of society if she stays here at Misselthwaite? The manor is quite isolated, and Thwaite Village is very small. You must consider her future, if I may be so bold, sir. The nearest towns of any consequence are York and Leeds, and Mary needs to be in London!"
He sighed heavily and frowned at her. Contrary to Medlock's complaints, he had considered sending Mary to a finishing school, to learn to become a lady and meet the right kinds of people. But his niece was so happy here, and she had had such an unhappy childhood that he felt she deserved to be carefree for the time being. The girl was only fifteen – surely there was plenty of time in the future for finishing school and coming out parties and beaus? He couldn't even imagine Mary being courted!
"And if I may also add," Medlock said, breaking his thoughts once more, though he noticed this time she was hesitating even more than before, "Miss Mary spends a good deal of time in her garden. That wouldn't be so bad in and of itself, for I agree that the outdoors has done her a world of good. But her time in the garden is always spent in the company of a young man, two years older than she. Dickon Sowerby is no longer a child, sir. He's seventeen. And Mary isn't far behind him. With the changes in her figure and her old clothes, it's most improper for her to spend so much time with a young man, alone. The servants are starting to comment on it, sir."
"Dickon is Mary's closest friend, Mrs. Medlock. I do not forget that he saved Colin's life, and he's never been improper to my niece."
"I know he's never been improper to her, but others will talk, sir. Whether the talk is accurate or just plain gossip, they will still talk! They're saying the two are in love with each other, and sir, he is an under-gardener and Mary is a lady! It isn't right." She looked truly upset now, that she had overstepped her boundaries but felt it necessary.
Lord Craven had to admit that he admired her for her candidacy, but he wasn't sure her frustrations were warranted. So all he said was, "Very well. I will speak to Mary. You are dismissed."
He could tell she wished to say more to him, but she would not ignore a direct command. Nodding politely, she turned and swept out of the room.
He sat for a long time and mulled. With the housekeeper gone, his thoughts took a darker turn then while she had been so voluble. Was he really doing the right thing? Now that she'd mentioned it, Mary was starting to develop. Archibald had not bothered to look or pay attention because he still believed her to be so young. But her figure was filling out, her skirts at least an inch too short from what they should have been, and her bodice a little snug across her chest. She was such a wild, free thing that he hated to see her confined and restricted by clothing or lessons, but he should at least speak to her and get her opinions to determine the next steps. If Medlock had noticed Mary's figure, Dickon surely had. And despite the fact that Archibald Craven had no concerns that Dickon would ever behave in an ungentlemanly like matter towards Mary, he was still a young man, after all. And young men were usually unable to avoid noticing such things as developing young ladies.
Sighing heavily, he rose from his seat and abandoned his attempt to read the paper. The only news was on the war, and he would rather speak to Mary than read the causality lists.
As he wandered slowly out into the gardens, Archibald thought of what he should say to her. Since she reminded him so much of Lilias, he couldn't bear to hurt the girl. Colin had wanted to go to London; he'd wanted to go to school. But Mary loved Misselthwaite and had never desired to leave once she had been there long enough to know she loved her new home.
The walk to the secret garden seemed to take a very long time, and when Lord Craven reached the door, he paused before soundlessly pushing it open enough to look inside.
It was vibrant and lovely; a special haven that he could not deny would have any young lady desiring to stay at Misselthwaite rather than rushing to London to foppish parties and soirees. The natural beauty took one's breath away. Mary was near the back wall, weeding about a bunch of lilies that had yet to unfurl, looking quite at home among the tall, slender plants – she looked just like one of them herself. And in the far corner, near the oak tree that still made his heart clench, he saw Dickon working around a newly budding rose bush.
The boy was tall for seventeen, and as lanky as Mary was. It was obvious he would grow a few additional inches and reach a rough six plus feet of height. He was starting to fill out in his arms and chest and shoulders, and the sleeves of his shirt were rolled past his elbows to reveal strong forearms and lightly muscled biceps. His trousers had patches of dirt on them, likely from kneeling in the beds that morning, and his hair was growing a little long on his neck. It curled around the edges, the copper strands catching the sunlight from under the patched hat he wore. He was tanned from his work out of doors, and Lord Craven wondered if his niece had noticed the changes that the last couple of years had brought about in the young gardener's appearance as well.
However, before he could step inside and ask Mary to walk with him to discuss the issues at hand, Dickon suddenly turned to find his young companion.
"Mary, wil't thee come 'ere a mom'nt?" he said cheerfully, leaning against the spade he was working with.
Mary looked up from the lilies, smiling, and rose to her feet gracefully. She walked quickly to him, her dress rippling in the light breeze. It was too snug, and Lord Craven felt ashamed that he had not noticed before now. She would have to be fitted for new clothes immediately. How had he not thought of new clothes during the past year? Was he such a terrible guardian? He had been trying so hard to be a good uncle!
But Mary seemed oblivious to her dress, and when she reached Dickon, she placed a hand on his strong arm and leaned over him, eager to see what he wanted to show her. Lord Craven heard her gasp of pleasure and surprise all the way across the garden.
"Oh! Dickon! Are those new? I didn't realize we had white roses on this side of the garden!"
"Aye," the young lad said sheepishly, running a hand behind his neck. "The'rt new. I put 'em in jus' a month ago when thee was inside, havin' tha lessons. The shopkeeper in Thwaite said they was snow-white roses. I thought thee migh' like 'em. The picture on th' card reminded me o' Mrs. Craven, it did. How pure and good she was, so mother says. I was sure she would approve. Does tha like them?" he added, hopefully and a little worried.
The simple, heartfelt words stunned Lord Craven. The boy had been so thoughtful as to buy a white rose bush in honor of his late wife? He could not believe it. Dickon had been but two years old when Lilias had died. But yet, he was conscious of Lilias's memory, and was very conscious of trying to please Mary.
It was also quite evident that he had succeeded; for Mary cried out so happily that the sound of her voice jolted her uncle from his temporary paralysis of amazement.
"Oh, Dickon! They're perfect! Oh! Tha'rt so wonderful! I love thee so much!"
And, to Archibald's shock, his niece threw her arms around the young man, hugging him so tightly that it was impossible for Dickon not to return the gesture. But he also noticed that Mary's words had a profound effect on the lad, who seemed startled and suddenly shy, despite the fact that he'd dropped the shovel and hugged her, as well. Mary herself also instantly realized what she had said, and she quickly stepped back, flushing from slight embarrassment.
"I... what I meant was..." she stammered softly, her cheeks turning a soft pink and her fingers twisting together. "I meant..."
Dickon looked quite worried, and after a moment of awkward silence, he queried nervously, "Tha meant...?"
Mary bit her lower lip and diverted her eyes, scared to meet his. Dickon, sensing her embarrassment, reached up as though he were holding his hand out to a bird, and slowly drew the backs of two fingers down her cheek. Lord Craven watched as his niece stood silently and quite frozen, her eyes wide with surprise at Dickon's feather-light touch. But his gentleness prompted her to continue.
"I meant," she whispered in a trembling voice (and her uncle heard her ever word despite her quietness), "I meant exactly that. I love thee, Dickon. I always have."
"Tha... tha loves me? As in...?" Dickon sounded hoarse, as though he couldn't believe her words. Archibald could tell he hadn't been expecting Mary to say it – he'd been expecting Mary to deny it. It was written over his face that he'd expected her to tell him she didn't mean it the way she'd said it, that he was just a gardener and she a lady of the house, and ask him to forget that the words had slipped out. He'd expected them to go on as they always had, as though nothing were different, when both of them knew secretly that everything was different.
But now it was no secret. In fact, Mary looked quite resolute. She nodded and stepped up to him again, placing her hand on his chest and looking up longingly into his face.
"As in... as in how... a woman loves a man, I think. I know I'm only fifteen, but I know how I feel!" She flushed bright pink, quite embarrassed now, but willing to see her statement through. "I'm sorry. I shouldn't have said anything, should I?" She stepped back, clearly upset. "How terribly forward of me, when I don't even know if you could ever feel the same! I'm sorry, Dickon!"
But Dickon reached out and gently pulled her against him. Mary gasped once more, but had no time to ask further questions, for the young Yorkshire lad bent his head and softly brushed his mouth to hers – a shy first kiss that neither had quite expected. Mary remained very still, her eyes closed as Dickon's lips slid slowly against hers a second time, still soft and gentle. When he drew back an inch, she sighed and trembled against him.
"Oh... Oh, Dickon..."
"Eh, Mary... I do love thee. I've loved thee for years now." However, despite his declaration, he sounded hurt. "But th' truth is, tha's a lady. And I'm..."
"Tha's an angel," Mary said, cutting him off fiercely, despite the fact that she was still blushing. She gripped the front of his shirt tightly. "Tha's the best angel in Yorkshire! In the world, even!"
"I'm no' an angel. I'm a gardener," he said hopelessly, his head dropping towards his chest.
She reached up, and much to her uncle's surprise, she pulled Dickon down to her and kissed him firmly on the mouth. The action caught Dickon off guard, and he pulled Mary to him in a way that he hadn't before. As the kiss broke, she said sharply, "I love thee. I don't ever want to love anyone else! I don't care how young I am. I've known that since I first meet thee, and nothing changes how I feel! Nothing will ever change how I feel!"
"Eh! But I do love thee too, lass." Dickon swallowed and touched her cheek again. "And I know I won' love anyone else, either. For as long as I live. But still..."
"Then nothing else matters." Mary hugged him close. "Nothing, Dickon. Not as long as you love me, too."
"Much o' it matters, Mary. Surely tha knows that."
"It doesn't! Not to me. I don't care who you are or what you do. You're my Yorkshire angel," she said shyly, burying her nose against his shirt, as though inhaling his scent.
Lord Craven was about to turn and leave, embarrassed to watch any further, when Dickon's next words stopped him.
"But tha uncle… he'll want thee to go to school, Mary. Tha's a lady. Tha'll need to go to London to learn to be proper, and tha'll meet some young man there. Someone who can give thee wha' I canna'."
"No! That isn't true! I won't go!" she cried, the contrary expression flashing in her eyes, even as Dickon gently stroked her hair. "I'm going to stay here with you! I won't leave! I don't care about London or being a lady or about anything except... except you. And the garden, of course." She swallowed, looking suddenly tearful and scared. "Why would I want to marry someone just because they could give me a manor or servants or jewelry? I don't want to be like that! I just want to stay here forever. I don't ever want something I don't love, not after India! I don't ever want to be like my mother!"
"Eh, lass," he said soothingly, brushing away the dampness under her eyes. "Don' cry. I hope thee's right. I don' want thee to go. I want thee wit' me, always. I always thought t'was too much a hope to be wishin' for, though. And se'fish. That tha could love me at all, and that tha would say all o' that."
But he didn't sound hopeful, and Archibald Craven felt a sharp pain in his heart. He slowly pulled the door to again and moved halfway up the walk, where he stopped and took a deep, shaky breath. He shouldn't have intruded on the conversation, but he hadn't been able to leave, either. Mary had seemed so happy to be in Dickon's strong young arms, whether nothing could hurt or harm her. And Dickon...?
Dickon clearly loved her. But he understood better than Mary the social repercussions of a relationship between the two of them. Lord Craven sighed impatiently. Now he really did have a huge dilemma, and he felt terrible for it. The servants of Misselthwaite were right. Dickon Sowerby and Mary Lennox were in love with each other, though they had only just discovered it today. The gardener and the master's niece, a young lady who should be in London at the age of fifteen, learning to etiquette and finding a beau, so she could get married at eighteen and live a life of luxury, just as society demanded. And instead, Mary Lennox claimed she wanted a simple life on the moor with a young man who had helped her so much, whom she was in desperately in love with, but who could give her nothing more than a cottage and a very meager income.
"Ah, Lilias. I wish I knew what to do," he murmured, heartbroken. How could he send Mary away when she clearly wanted to stay with Dickon at Misselthwaite? But what would her parents say if they were alive, knowing she had not taken her place in society? Her mother had been a beautiful woman, loved by many. Mary had the same abilities, surely. And Dickon was just a moor boy, despite how much Archibald Craven liked the lad.
Oh, Archie. True love is so rare! You, of all people, know this. So would you really send her away and destroy the love she shares with that kind, gentle boy? She won't find another like him, especially in stuffy old London. Precisely why I left the place to be with you! London is so dull and tedious! Besides, Mary doesn't need to learn to become a lady. She already is. All you need is a private tutor for her. Just for a year or so, so she can learn the basics. How to dress, how do her hair... so she can impress that young man even more. Heavens, what he wouldn't do if she walked in the garden looking like his princess!
He turned sharply, disbelieving. It was as though she had been standing right beside him. He could almost see her meandering up the walk in the long, gauzy cream-colored gown she loved so much. He could almost see her smile, her hair done up fashionably. Her kind expression, the mischievous twinkle in her warm gray eyes. Misselthwaite had been her heart's desire, too. He had been so afraid she wouldn't leave the luxuries of London for dreary, old-fashioned Yorkshire, but she had wanted nothing more than to live in the country with the man she loved. She would have adored Mary, her brother's daughter.
"But Medlock says..."
Oh! Mrs. Medlock has a good heart, but she doesn't understand Mary. She never has. She doesn't even understand true love, Archie! Please don't send Mary away. For my sake? She's done so much to the garden. She's like a rose herself, and you know she would wither in London.
"Yes, yes, I know," he said wretchedly. It was truly as though he could hear her very words. "And God knows I have nothing against the boy, but..."
But what? What better for Mary than a young, strong, handsome gardener? The servants will talk, of course. But they always do and always will. They talked when you brought me home, didn't they? It will pass. All things pass in time.
"But Lilias... She's so young..." he whispered. "How can she know she will love him forever? Forever is such a long time! What if she decides in a few years she can't make it work? Or that she dislikes Yorkshire?"
She will never dislike Yorkshire. It's in her heart, Archie. Just as it was in ours. I knew I loved you. Mary knows she loves him. That will never change. She will make it work. Ah, she is such a contrary, strong lass, isn't she? She may look a bit like her mother, but she acts so very differently!
Oh, Archie. The lad will never waiver. Surely you know that. So sensible and kind! He's loved her since the day he met her. His heart is the strongest I've ever seen, I believe. He will always love her. And Mary will always love him. Trust them. Give them your blessing. Because you know they'll need it. They need your support. It will be a hard road, but it will become easy once they start it.
He heard the ivy swing away from the wall, and when he looked up, Dickon had stepped out of the garden and was pulling the door to. The dream of Lilias's voice floated away on the gentle spring breeze, and he felt suddenly sad and a bit lonely that he could no longer hear her.
When the lad saw his master standing on the ivy walk, he paled slightly beneath his tanned skin and nodded once. "Good mornin', sir," he said politely, though nervously.
Archibald pulled himself together. "Good morning, Dickon. Is Mary in the garden?"
"Aye, she is. I was jus' headin' back to Ben, sir. He's asked for me help in the kitchen gardens today."
"I see. Very good."
But just as Dickon went to pass him, his head bowed slightly as though to avoid eye contact, Lord Craven stopped him.
"Dickon, wait. I have something to ask you," he said quickly.
Confused, the boy stammered, "Sir?"
Taking a deep breath, Lord Craven murmured, "Will you promise me that you will always care for my niece? For Mary?"
Dickon stared for a moment before he whispered, "Aye, sir. If tha wishes. But I've already promised tha' to mysel'. I can promise it to thee, too." Then, struggling, he asked, "But why would thee need my help? Tha can care for Mary better then I!"
"No. No, I'm afraid it is the other way around, Dickon. You will be able to care for her better than I will. Because I know you love her," Archibald murmured, touching his shoulder. "In a way that only a man can love one woman."
Dickon looked truly startled. "Eh, sir...! I didn' know tha knew...! I've tried so hard t' keep a body from guessin'! What mun tha think o' me? The maids, they always talk o' it, and I tell 'em it isn' true because I didn' want it t' get back t' thee!" He looked embarrassed and a little scared. "I knew they'd tell Mrs. Medlock in a wink, I did! I haven' done nothin' improper-like to Mary, sir! I promise thee that, and..."
"Oh, Dickon. I know you haven't!" Archibald smiled softly, almost chuckling. "Please believe me. In fact, I approve of your feelings towards Mary, and hers to you. I intend to tell her the same thing that I've told you just now – that she should always care for you, too. But for now, you'd best hurry – Ben was cantankerous this morning. You don't want to keep him waiting. You will have plenty of time to speak to Mary about... our conversation."
Dickon nodded, too stunned and confused to say anything else. But as he turned away, his employer called him back one final time.
"Oh, and Dickon?"
"Aye, sir?" Dickon's brows knitted in worry again.
"I won't be sending Mary to any boarding schools or to London. She will remain here at Misselthwaite, so long as she desires. The choice is hers, and I know she will not leave. Mrs. Medlock feels she should go, but... I'm not sure she knows what's best for Mary. Or for you."
"Sir..." Dickon whispered, the blood draining from his face. "Tha heard wha' we was talkin' o', didn' tha? What mun tha think o' me? Tha mun know that we were jus'..."
"I think that you are the best lad in Yorkshire, just as Mary does," Archie said quietly, cutting him off. "And I know you are the man my niece loves. Nothing else matters but love, Dickon. I, of all people, know that. Now, run along, before Ben has tha hide," he added, smiling slightly as he used broad Yorkshire.
Dickon nodded, still quite pale, and turned to hurry down the path, and Archibald Craven stepped back to the door of the garden.
"Lilias. Be with me now," he whispered. "She is so young."
But she knows her mind. Mary will love thee for your decision and support.
He looked behind him, but there was nothing there. Sighing, he pushed the door open and stepped inside.
Mary was sitting beside the rose bush Dickon had planted, slowly fingering a pure white bud. It was obvious she was thinking of the previous few moments, for she looked pensive and flushed. But as her uncle started to walk towards her, she looked up in surprise.
"Oh! Uncle Archie! I thought you would be reading the paper after breakfast!"
"I was, but unfortunately, Mrs. Medlock demanded a moment of my time. May I join you, Mary?"
She nodded, and he sat down on a bench beside the white roses.
"These are beautiful," he murmured, reaching out to brush his fingertips over the dark leaves. "Your aunt loved all sorts of roses, but she once told me she believed the white ones symbolized pure love. A love that knew no boundaries, no hardships, no weakness."
Mary looked at him in wonder and, after a long pause, she finally whispered, "Dickon planted them for me. And for Aunt Lilias. He said he thought she would like them."
"He is quite right; she would. Oh, Mary. I have never met a young man with a kinder, gentler heart in my life – which brings me to why I am here." He sighed and looked about the garden, at all the bright color. "Mrs. Medlock brought several points to my attention this morning, some which deserve further consideration, and some which do not."
Mary's brow furrowed. "Oh?"
"Yes. Such as the fact that you are, Mary, growing into a young lady. Your clothes are getting too small and worn out, and I confess, I have not thought much of it. But this week, Mrs. Medlock will take you into the village to have new dresses made."
"Oh." She seemed confused. "I suppose this one is a little tight, but I hadn't really thought on it."
He cleared his throat. "Yes, well... I will inform her that you will need several sets of new dresses – some to work in the garden, of course; as well as day gowns and evening gowns."
"I don't have any use for evening gowns, uncle."
"You might one day. You never know, do you? We may have a Christmas party when Colin comes home for the holidays."
Her brow furrowed in thought, but she said nothing and fortunately, she did not look too contrary. So he continued, bringing up the next point, which he was sure would make her contrary.
"Mrs. Medlock also made it a point to inform me that most young ladies of your age and background are in London at finishing schools by now, learning proper etiquette, how to dance, and how to run a wealthy household efficiently. And looking for a husband." He fidgeted slightly. "She is right about that, I suppose."
Mary's eyes narrowed dangerously, and he could not help but smile at her expression.
"I know, however," he went on, "that you do not wish to leave Misselthwaite. But, I'm afraid that you do need some lessons in learning to be a proper lady, whether you desire them or not. They may be helpful to you in the future. Running free about the garden and the moors is fine, Mary. But you should also know how to control yourself. So, I propose we come to a compromise."
"I don't want to learn to be a lady," Mary said shortly. "Not if it means I must go to London. I won't leave Misselthwaite. Why do I need to learn such things, any ways?"
"Well, for one, I think Dickon might like to see you dressed up, Mary. Any young man likes to see his young lady as pretty as she can make herself. I think you would be surprised what power you could have over him if you walked into the garden or a room, looking as beautiful as you could. I could never take my eyes off Lilias whenever she made herself as stunning as possible, which was all of the time, really. It was as though I were completely under a spell. I'm sure Dickon is like any young man – he would be quite mesmerized, Mary."
She was visibly startled and her hands clenched on her lap as she whispered, "Dickon?"
"Yes. You wish to stay here because of Dickon, don't you?"
She stammered a moment, and he chuckled.
"Ah, Mary. I know you love him. And I know he loves you."
"You… you do? But how?" she cried.
Now embarrassed, he sighed and said, "I shan't lie to you. When I came out to speak with you just now, I'm afraid I accidentally overheard your conversation. I did not mean to pry, Mary. In fact, I did not even believe Medlock when she said the servants thought the two of you in love because you were spending so much time with Dickon. I merely sought you to tell you of my conversation with her, because she felt it was exceedingly improper for a young lady to be spending so much time alone with a young man, especially when the two are from very different backgrounds. But I did overhear the two of you, and now I know for a fact why you spend so much time with him."
Mary turned bright pink.
"Child, you mustn't be upset with me. I did not listen on purpose, I assure you. Now, can we please compromise? I don't want to send you from Misselthwaite – you love it here, and I confess that I would miss you terribly; you're so much like my own daughter, now. And Dickon would be heartbroken, as would you. So we both agree that is not an option." When she didn't answer, he went on, "As such, will you agree to attend additional lessons with a private governess, who can teach you how to be a proper lady, how to dress and do your hair, how to run a household – if I bring one to Misselthwaite? You would not have to leave. Just attend an additional lesson once a day during the week. While you attend your lessons, Dickon can attend to his duties as an under-gardener, and when you both finish your work, you can spend time in the garden together. Or, if it is a nice day, you can spend time in the garden first, and complete your lessons and duties in the afternoon."
Mary seemed to struggle with this, but after a moment, she nodded mutely.
"Excellent." He felt relieved, and added, "I will see what I can do. Medlock also mentioned that one reason you needed to go to London was to learn to be a lady and find a proper beau – she seemed most keen on that. However, I believe you've already found a very good one." His eyes sparkled. "Do you not agree?"
"Oh, Uncle... do you really mean it?" she whispered, twisting her fingers together in her skirt.
"Yes, Mary. I really mean it. Do you truly love Dickon? Are you willing to spend your life with him? It may be hard at times. He is of a very different social background and cannot give you what other men could. You would likely live in a cottage on the moor; perhaps only as large as the rooms you currently reside in here. You would have to learn to cook and clean yourself, and you would not have as many luxuries. You're so young, child. It is a huge decision and I fear you are so young... perhaps too young."
"No! No, I'm not!" She rose to her knees and gripped his hands tightly. "I know I won't ever love anyone else! I couldn't bear to leave Misselthwaite and Dickon and the garden and you! I want to stay here forever! I don't mind learning to cook and clean; I learned how to dress myself when I was ten, didn't I? And I wouldn't mind a cottage on the moor at all! Dickon was just afraid because he felt you wouldn't approve, and... because he's a member of your staff..." She trailed off, looking flushed and excited and full of awe all at once.
He smiled softly and patted her hand. "I will see what else I can do to make your life a little easier with Dickon, and I will speak to him about our arrangements. I will also let you know when I have found a proper tutor for your new lessons. And Mrs. Medlock will take you to be fitted for new dresses tomorrow."
She quickly hugged him. "Oh, Uncle Archie! You are so kind to me! Is it any wonder I love it here, as much as I ever disliked India? I cannot imagine being anywhere else, or with anyone else!"
"You do remind me so much of Lilias." He chuckled. "She would have adored you, Mary. Now, don't be late for dinner."
"I won't! I promise!"
He rose and glanced at the bush again, and murmured, "Oh, and Mary... when the first rose blooms... will you bring it in to my study? I think I should like it on my desk."
Her eyes shone at him as she nodded, and to his surprise, his heart felt immeasurably lighter.