I originally began this fic under my other user name: Paige Christian, many years ago. I have recently felt inspired to come back to this story and give it a bit of a makeover (well needed, I must say!). Please leave me a comment if you can - I love to know what people think of my stories and it helps inspire me to 'get on with it' and continue writing.
This story is going to be told in first person, from Dickon's point of view as I have always found him a fascinating character, and I thought it would be fun to 'get inside his head' for a while and see things from his perspective.
A pair of blue eyes
'Dickon! get thyself over here, boy!'
I sighed and looked up from the potato patch that I had been digging. Old Ben was yelling at me from across the path, and his weathered face was set in its usual grimace.
'Alright', I'm comin'", I replied, pushing my shovel into the dark soil.
'Don't take all day, lad!' Ben scoffed, as I walked towards him.
Ben Weatherstaff stood at the end of the path, leaning on his shovel, in what was obviously an expression of impatience. As I drew nearer, I could see that he was squinting through his bushy eyebrows, frown lines deep on his face.
I smiled inwardly. I had been working with the old gardener for over three years now, and knew that there was a kind heart behind his gruff exterior. I never took any of his comments to mind.
'Tha' has been day dreamin' again, lad.' Ben stated bluntly, looking me up and down. 'Who is it this time? Sally Andrews? Or perhaps th' new girl...Elizabeth... Edith... no...' he stood scratching his head, deep in thought.
'Emily Cameron?' I put in, grinning.
'Aye! That's her. So has tha' started seein her, then?' he said, with a knowing gleam in his eyes.
I smiled. All the staff at the manor seemed intent on me 'settling down and finding the right woman.' Emily Cameron was a sweet girl, if you liked blushing young parlour maids. 'Oh, no. No we're just friends, Ben. Well, for now, anyway.'
'Hmmph. Well don't leave it too late, lad. Tha' might end up an old bachelor like me.'
'An wha' would be wrong wi' that?' I asked, smiling cheekily. 'Besides, Ben, tha' needn't worry. I am only just twenty years old.'
'Aye. Well since thee is so young an' nimble, I have a wee job for thee t' do today.'
Ben gestured towards the pruning shears that lay on the path beside him. I knew what he had in mind, and again, I sighed. It was going to be a long day.
When Ben decided that something had to be done, it had to be done straight away, without complaint or delay. He had once been in the Navy, and it showed in his rigid nature. Myself, I was more flexible, which was beneficial, when working with one such as Ben Weatherstaff – 'old Ben' as he was known by the other gardeners. 'I don't know how you put up wi' th old codger', my friend Jimmie Morelock had once said to me, which made me privately wonder how many of the other gardeners had made it known to John Wallace, head gardener of Misselthwaite manor, that they couldn't possibly work with the old man.
His Lordship wants th' hedges t' be pruned.' Ben explained, waving his weathered hand towards the thick fence of hedge that adorned the kitchen gardens. Of course we had expected this order to come for weeks – for it was Autumn and heading into the cold season – the perfect time of year to prune the hedges right back.
Pruning the hedges was not a job for the faint hearted – especially as it entailed climbing up to the top of the rickety old ladder (which everyone privately agreed had seen better days).
'I'll hold tha' ladder while tha' climbs up an' prunes th' hedge.' Ben stated.
I nodded. It was a familiar enough order, and a job that we had done many times before. Ben would hold the ladder, while I scaled it to the top – and if I was lucky, he wouldn't fall asleep against it this time. It crossed my mind as to why I was always stuck with this job – and wondered not for the first time, if I was the only one who was able to work with the old man.
I placed my foot gingerly on the bottom rung of the ladder, while Ben took hold of it at the edge. The wood felt grey and dry under my fingertips, and the ladder wobbled slightly as I climbed up.
'Mind tha' doesn't fall asleep this time, Ben!' I shouted, once I had reached the top.
'Mind tha' tongue boy!' he replied, 'an remember who's holdin' th' ladder now.'
I laughed, almost at the top now. 'Aye, Ben!'
The view from the top was as spectacular as always. From my vantage point I could see the whole grounds of Misselthwiate, and the endless moor beyond. I took a moment to take in the breathtaking beauty of the scene that was in front of me. Trees of oak, beech and elder adorned with a kaleidoscope of autumn colours – reds, yellows, and oranges. The heather on the moor, in contrast, a sea of deep purple. I took a deep breath, inhaling the various scents, breathing autumn in. In just a moment I had captured the memory of the scene in my mind, wondering briefly how I could best capture it on canvas.
I began pruning, taking off the spindly branches of the hedge, and throwing them down to the path below. It was hard work, both handling the old pruning shears, and trying to keep my balance on the ladder. After a time I looked below me, and saw Ben leaning up against the ladder, his eyes closed. Silently I rolled my eyes in wonder, shaking my head. The old man really could sleep anywhere.
The wind blew slightly around me, and carried sounds of the moor – the rushing of the breeze through the heather, the rustle of the dried leaves, and then, the sound of a carriage making it's way down the gravel driveway. Curious, I leant up slightly to look over the hedge, towards the house. I glanced down at Ben. He still seemed asleep. I rested the clippers on the top of the hedge and waited.
As I watched, Lord Craven emerged from the house, followed by Mrs Medlock, and a number of other staff, all of them appearing to be waiting anxiously. I watched as Mrs Medlock smoothed her dress, and then turned to scold one of the waiting maids, who then stood up much straighter. I smiled inwardly. After all these years, the old housekeeper had not lost her touch. She's a right harridan t' work for.' My younger sister, Sue Ellen had informed me on one of the rare occasions we had been able to meet. 'I feel run off my feet, most of th' time.' Sue Ellen, I noticed, was not one of the waiting party that on closer inspection, seemed to consist of some of the more senior staff of the house. Whoever was visiting, was obviously rather important.
The carriage eventually drew to a halt, Lord Craven walking forward to meet it. The door opened and a young man emerged, tall and slim with dark hair and pale skin. He jumped down lightly from the carriage and moved towards Lord Craven, who was waiting with outstretched arms. His movements seemed familiar somehow, and with a shock of recognition I realized it was none other than Colin Craven. I had not set eyes on Colin since he had left to go to boarding school seven years earlier. He was much taller then what I remembered, and moved with an easy confidence. Three other people had emerged from the carriage meanwhile, another young man with sandy hair, who looked to be around Colin's age, a young woman and an older woman carrying a small terrier. She set the dog down gently and it pranced away, yapping and circling the feet of the visitors. When the dog approached Colin he picked it up, playfully rubbing the ruff of it's head, then he approached the carriage door once more, holding out his free and to someone else from within the depths of the carriage. The dog was struggling to get down and I was so caught up in watching it, that I barely noticed the young woman who was emerging from the carriage. It was only as she stepped down lightly onto the gravel of the driveway, laughing as she did so, and lifted her head up to look around her that I realized who it was.
Her dress was a deep and vibrant red, much like the autumn leaves that adorned the trees of the grounds, and it swirled around her ankles as she walked. Its colour only served to highlight her hair - piled on top of her head in an elaborate style -which was of a deep gold. She approached Lord Craven, striding rapidly into his waiting arms. It couldn't be, I thought, shaking my head, my heart skipping a beat. He embraced her as a Father would a daughter, holding her tightly in his arms. The other people seemed to fade into the background somehow, and I ceased to notice them. Mary Lennox, the name played in my mind, like the whisper of a soft breeze. Miss Mary.
'Tha' has stopped prunin? Is tha' day dreamin' again, boy?' Ben's voice called up from the ground below, snapping my attention back to the task on hand. Unable to shake my curiosity, I called down to him.
'I've just seen' Miss Mary an' Master Colin wi' some friends. I didn't know they were comin' back.'
'So they've arrived, have they?' Ben replied matter of factly in his gruff voice. 'I heard they may be comin' t'day'.
It never ceased to amaze me how Ben managed to know all the comings and goings of the house. For all he could be a hermit and a recluse at times, Ben seemed to take genuine enjoyment in keeping up with the latest gossip from the servants – if only so he could voice his disapproval and shake his head, in a fashion that showed he didn't condone the behavior of whoever was the subject of the gossip.
'Does tha' know why their friends are?'
He scratched his head, then called up to me. 'A young lady an' her Mother – I forget her name – something like Phillips, I think...' he shrugged. 'An also th' brother of th' young lady – a friend o' young Master Colin.'
'Maybe I will get a chance t' speak wi' her – wi' Master Colin an' Miss Mary I mean.' I added hastily.
Ben shot me a disapproving look. 'Don't get tha' hopes up too high, boy. Things aren't the same as they were when thee was a lad. We have t' remember our place, and it would be best if thee remembered yours. They're all grown up now, and are Ladies an' Gentleman.'
I did not reply, but picked up my secaturs and resumed clipping the hedge. I did not care about such things, although I knew better than to mention this to Ben. We had all been friends as children, surely things could not have changed that much in the space of a few years. I wondered with growing excitement if they would be visiting the Secret Garden during their stay at the manor. How would they feel, having been away for so long? Would they walk in, expecting it to be dead and overgrown? I could hardly wait to see their reactions when they opened the door and discovered the garden to be as wild and beautiful as when they had left it, brimming with life. As I trimmed the hedge, I paused every now and again to catch a glimpse of the group standing before Misselthwaite Manor, my curiousity growing at the thought of speaking to my old friends again. Would they remember me? Would things really be so different between us? I paused and watched the group one last time as they made their way inside the house. I intended to find out.