Mary was saying goodbye to her Garden. She walked around the gravel paths, bidding farewell to each tree and flower. In the morning, she was going to London, a place she had never been before, and attend a lady's seminary. Uncle Archibald said it was what young ladies did when they turned 12. Colin said that was just a fancy name for a finishing school. Swas being sent away to be finished.
As she neared the swing, Mary rubbed her eyes, willing herself not to cry. But it was no use; as she sat on the wooden swing, tears prickled her eyes. To leave her garden for eight whole months seemed to her an utter tragedy.
"Is that thee, Miss Mary?" asked a familiar voice. Out of the thicket, spade in hand, stepped Dickon. At 15, he was all gangly limbs and large hands that he hadn't yet grown into. He looked much as he had when he was a boy - his hair was still a mop of russet curls and his nose was still upturned. His beautiful blue eyes took in the scene before him.
"Eh, Miss Mary," he said sympathetically. "Tha' munnot cry."
"I'm going to miss everything so much!" Mary sobbed. "I don't want to go to London and be a lady! I want to stay here with you!"
Dickon sat down on the swing beside her, like they used to do when they were small. They didn't fit as well as they used to. Dickon's hip pressed against hers, his broad shoulders filling out the space between her and the swing's support rope.
"Tha'll like London," he said encouragingly. "It's a fine city. Tha'll come home a grown up lady wi' a head full of kennin's."
"Why can't Uncle Archibald leave me alone?" Mary asked, turning her wet forget-me-not eyes on Dickon. "I want always to stay here and work in my garden."
Dickon's kind eyes were a little sad.
"Someday tha'll want other things, Miss Mary."
"What other things?" To Mary it seemed impossible to want anything more than the Secret Garden.
Dickon's ruddy cheeks turned a little redder.
"A… a husband. An' find things. A house an' a carriage. Tha'll be wantin' to go to parties an' balls an' dance with handsome chaps in top hats. Tha'll have little time for gardens when tha'art a grown lady."
"I won't!" said Mary. "I won't be a lady, if it means forgetting my Garden!"
"Tha doesn't know what it's like," said Dickon. "Tha'll come back from London all changed."
Mary was quiet for a long time. Then, she slipped her slim hand into Dickon's larger, coarser, browner one.
"I won't change," she promised softly. "I'll always be your Mary, no matter what finishing school is like. I'll always come back to our garden."
Dickon felt her soft hand in his, looked down at her upturned face.
"An' I'll always be your Dickon, an' be here in our Garden," he said.
Mary smiled, wiping her tears away with her free hand.
"Then I won't feel so bad," she said.
Finishing school was difficult for Mary at first. She'd never had any friends except for Colin and Dickon, and she'd never been around so many other girls before in her life. She didn't understand their social structure, their petty jealousies and squabbles.
But she managed to find a place for herself, and she had lived such an interesting life that the other pupils couldn't help but be fascinated by her. To live in India in the burning sun and exotic sights, and then to live in a lonely manor with a hundred closed-up rooms, surrounded by miles and miles of lonely moors, was to be quite like a princess in a fairy tale. She was not a terribly social girl, but she was able to find a few good friends that made the long months of study pass quicker.
Mary received letters from her uncle once a week, and letters from Colin twice a week. Colin was having a "jolly" time at college, and he won every race he ran. Mary searched Lord Craven's letter for mentions of Martha, Dickon, Mrs. Medlock, or any of the other Misstlethwait folk, but her uncle was often away on business, and thought that a little girl would much rather hear about Paris ladies in twirling dresses like butterflies, and painted Russian roofs, than the servants.
Christmas she spent with her uncle and cousin at their townhouse, which had not been used for many years.
"I didn't know we had a house in town," said Colin.
"Oh, yes," said Lord Craven, with a far-away look in his eyes. "I bought it for your mother."
It was a grand house on a quiet street. Although the inside was full of old-fashioned furniture covered in white sheets, the outside was beautifully kept. Mary thought the grounds very pretty, covered as they were in a dusting of snow.
Mary spent her first summer holiday at Misstlethwait. She thought it would be as if nothing had changed, but things had changed. Colin got bored quickly and went to visit a friend from school who had fine horses and a shooting range. Mary hardly saw Dickon.
" 'E works so hard!" Martha boasted proudly. "Mr Roach says 'e's the best under-gardener t' manor's ever had. Plants just grow for 'im. Said 'e'll make head gardener some day." She beamed on behalf of her brother.
Mary was happy for him, of course, but it meant they hardly ever saw one another. Mary was almost glad to go back to school.
The next summer, when Mary was 15, she spent only a week at Misslethwait. Her friend Charlotte Harrington had asked Mary to stay with her family at their seaside manor outside of Bath. Mary had never been to the seaside, except to sail from India when she was 10. Charlotte's brother James was very handsome, and his smile made Mary blush hot and look away.
"Mama says he's a charmer," Charlotte said, unconcerned. "He's eighteen, and Papa says that he needs to marry an heiress."
Mary met Dickon only once during her stay at Misslethwait. He was so tall and gruff, he seemed like a stranger.
The year she turned 16, Lord Craven took Mary to her first dance. It was hardly unusual for a young lady of Mary's age and rank to go to a Christmas cotillion when accompanied by her guardian. Lord Craven bought her long gowns of silk and lace, and employed a maid to look after her wardrobe and help her dress.
"I'm old enough to tie my own shoes!" Mary snapped hotly, remember her Aya and a time when she wouldn't do just that.
"A young lady should have a lady's maid," her uncle said, smiling. "Please, my dear, allow me to pamper you. It gives me such pleasure."
He also brought out her mother's jewels, which had been waiting in storage until she was old enough. Mary didn't wear any of them, but she looked at them for a long time.
Colin looked dashing that night, every bit of him polished, right down to his jeweled cravat pin.
"Aren't we a handsome pair?" Colin asked, grinning at their reflection in the long hallway mirror. "You're going to be the prettiest girl at the party, Mary."
Mary stared at a reflection she didn't recognize. This girl was tall and willowy, her elegant figure visible through the gauzy layers of fabric on her stylish dress. This girl had white shoulders and huge blue eyes like sapphires. This girl's fair hair was entwined with ribbons and flowers, and at her throat gleamed the silver pendant Colin had given her for Christmas.
"I look like my mother," she said.
It was high time Mary invited some of her school friends to Misstlethwait. She was 17, had been completely finished to a polish by finishing school, she had made her bow to the Queen, and "come out" in society, and now it was time to escape the heat of the city by retreating to the Moors.
Mary invited Charlotte and James Harrington, as well as Sarah Chalmers and Amelia Cartwright. Colin had two of his friends from college as well, so it was, as he put it, a "jolly party". Charlotte said James was mad about Mary. Mary wasn't sure how she felt about that. James Harrington was handsome and charming and sophisticated, and he had singled her out, a fact which made Mary smile and blush. She enjoyed his attentions, and liked being the envy of the other girls.
They spent their days picnicking, playing games, and exploring the local scenery. Mary enjoyed herself, and saw that her guests did too. Lord Craven was away, and Mary was mistress of Misstlethwait in his absence. She rather liked it.
They sat in the garden after lunch, enjoying the sunshine. Colin and the rest of the boys were playing games with a ball, while the girls sat in the shade to preserve their complexions. Mary, however, was wishing very hard she could play with the boys. She was quite as good as Colin at ball games. Time was she would have jumped up and played with them regardless of convention or her fair skin, but years of finishing school training kept her in her seat.
She was dressed in a pale pink afternoon dress with a pink flower in her fair hair. She looked very like a flower herself, sitting amongst the trees. A fact which was not wasted on James Harrington. He threw himself down heavily beside her on the grass.
"Phew! Your cousin plays a sharp game, Miss Lennox!" he said, stretching out his long legs.
Mary watched Colin run for the ball, and smiled.
"He does," she agreed, remembering a time when Colin refused to even stand.
Amelia raised a delicate hand to her mouth, and giggled.
"Mary, that gardener is staring at you."
Mary glanced up sharply. A tall figure was leaning against his hoe, watching the party of gentlefolk. Ruddy curls spilled out from under his cap, his nose was sharp and upturned, and his beautiful blue eyes lingered on her. None of the childish roundness of his face remained; it was the face of a man, not a boy.
"Oh," said Mary softly. "I thought Martha said he was out of town."
"A friend of yours, is it?" James asked sarcastically. "He should know his place, and not stare at a lady like yourself."
Mary's temper flared at his tone.
"Yes, actually, he is my friend," she said sharply. "When I was a little girl, he was very nearly the only friend I had in the world."
"I suppose it's alright to be friends with a gardener when you're little," Sarah said reflectively. "You don't know any better at that age."
"I was friends with another gardener too," Mary said defensively. "Ben Weatherstaff died two years ago. He was in his 80s, but he still tended the roses."
"Dear me, what strange friends you had!" Amelia giggled.
"I was a lonely child," Mary replied.
Colin caught sight of Dickon at that moment, and waved. He ran over to the where Dickon was leaning on his hoe.
"Dickon!" he cried heartily. "How are you?"
"Well enou', I thank thee, Master Colin," Dickon answered. His eyes were still on Mary.
Mary walked over to them, deciding that she didn't care what her friends thought.
"Hello Dickon," she said. "I'm surprised to see you. Martha said you were away."
"I come back," Dickon replied. He glanced down at his hoe. "I mun get back to work. Master Colin. Miss Mary." He tipped his hat, then walked away, leaving Mary with the strangest hollow feeling.
The next morning, Mary got up very early. She knew that her guests still kept town hours, and would not be up till nearly noon, and the sun was just now peeping over the horizon, and she was aching to see her Garden. The whole week she had been kept from it. Colin had wanted to show the guests the late roses that climbed the wall of the Secret Garden, but Mary had vehemently opposed the idea.
"It's a secret garden, Colin! It's meant to be a secret!"
"But it's not a secret any more, Mary," Colin argued.
"You're not sharing my garden with anybody," Mary declared. "It's special."
"It's not your garden," Colin replied peevishly. "It's my father's garden. And one day it will be my garden. The whole house is mine."
"The house may be yours, but the garden is mine," Mary's eyes flashed in a familiar, angry way. "Your father gave it to me. My bit of earth."
"He didn't know you were asking for that bit of earth," Colin replied.
But he never again suggested that anyone see the Secret Garden.
Now, in the dawn light, Mary crept out of the house and down the familiar path to the garden. Her feet knew the way, despite the time that had passed since she had been there last. She pushed the ivy-framed door open, her heart thrilling with its gentle swaying in the breeze.
Colin didn't understand. He'd forgotten what a hidden and special place the garden was. He had forgotten the Magic. Mary hadn't.
Mary touched each rose, each tree, each leaf and petal, as if greeting old friends. She laughed with delight to see each one. Her feet danced along the familiar paths as they led her deeper and deeper into the Garden. Someone had planted new flowers, a carpet of purple and blue and white lilies around her Empress of India lily – her ladies in waiting in their bright ball gowns.
A figure rose from the tall grass at the far end.
"Who be there?" asked Dickon.
"It's only me," said Mary.
Dickon whipped off his cap.
"Eh, Miss Mary. I didnae think to see thee 'ere."
"I'm sorry it took me so long to come," Mary said, faintly embarrassed.
"I thought per'aps you were no' interested in t' Garden no more."
Mary shook her head emphatically.
"I could never forget my Garden. I just didn't want to share it with anyone. It belongs to you and to Colin and to me. Nobody else."
Dickon's smile was wide. It brightened his whole face, as if the sun had come out from behind a cloud.
Mary felt her breathing speed up. Dickon's smile was the most beautiful thing she had ever seen – the most beautiful thing on earth. Her heart began to hammer loudly.
"I've been keepin' it for thee," Dickon said, smiling bashfully at her.
"You planted more lilies," said Mary, remembering the ladies they had planted for the Empress of India so many years ago.
"Aye," said Dickon. "Lots a' new flowers. Been tuckin' em into interestin' places. You mun look for 'em."
Mary's eyes were alight with happiness. She could feel it spreading to every part of her, from the crown of her head to the tips of her toes.
"Show me," she instructed.
"Martha, can I ask you a question?"
Mary was sitting at the rough table in the kitchen, her chin propped up on her hand.
"A' course, Miss Mary," Martha said. "Anythin' you be wantin' to know."
"You're married, aren't you?"
Martha glanced down at the ring shining on her hand, and smiled a secret smile, one that Mary envied her for.
"And you love Tom?"
"Aye, that I do."
Tom was a handsome groom a few years older than Martha. When he brought Mary's horse around, he always winked at her.
"How did you know you loved him?" Mary asked.
Martha looked startled.
"Does tha love someone, Miss Mary?"
Mary stared moodily at the rough grain of the table.
"I don't know."
"Well now," said Martha, slipping into the chair beside Mary. "Twas a long process. I s'pose I knowed I loved 'im because when 'e's with me, it's like th' sun's come out ont' moor. Suddenly everythin's bright an warm an I can see everythin' so much clearer, and everythin's so much beautifuller and bigger and wider and brighter than it used to be. Does that help tha, Miss Mary?"
"Yes," said Mary slowly. "I think so. Thank you, Martha."
She went back to her room instead of going back out to the Garden. She sat in the window seat and stared out of the window at the moors outside for a long time.
It was in a similar position of thoughtfulness that James Harrington discovered Mary the next morning. It was very early, but she couldn't sleep. She was curled up in the library window, a book sitting on her lap, a useless prop. Her thoughts were far away from its pages, and her eyes on the moors.
"I used to watch the moor constantly," she said, as he sat down. "When I was a child."
"Why's that, Miss Lennox?" His tone was humouring.
"It's always changing," Mary answered, without taking her eyes from it. "It's so wide and empty, and yet it's like a living being. It has moods. Dickon used to say that when the moor cried, the whole world cried with it."
"And you?" James asked. "Do you cry with the moor?"
"I used to," Mary admitted. "When I was a child. When the wind whistled so, I used to think it was a child, lost on the moor and crying out. It made me sad."
"Surely the moor's not all sadness?" James asked.
Mary turned to him now, smiling.
"Oh no. When the sun is shining, it's like the world is all new and shining again. Even the sky looks washed and clean."
"You really do love this place, don't you?" said James, indicating the moor outside with a dismissive wave of his hand.
"It taught me to live again when I was dead inside. When the flowers opened, so did I."
"You are very like a flower, Miss Lennox," said James. He laid a hand on her arm. "Miss Lennox – Mary. You cannot be unaware of how I feel for you. I think I've made it obvious. The situation of both our families, your friendship with my sister, it's perfect."
Mary's heart began to pound uncomfortably in her ears.
"Mr. Harrington?" she choked out.
James now had her hands in his.
"Please – James," he said, staring deep into her eyes.
Mary struggled to remove her hand from his, but he held it all the tighter.
"Mary, you must know how much I care for you. I think you the most beautiful, the most accomplished young lady in the world. I worship the ground you walk on. Will you do me the honour of becoming my wife?"
Mary couldn't breathe. It was as if someone had forced a constraint on her, was pulling it too tight, squeezing all the air out of her. She pulled her hand away from him, slipping out of her chair and coming to stand before the window, although now her eyes took in none of the scenery. James was handsome and rich and he cared about her. What more could a girl want? He was right here, asking her to marry him. Her heart should be thrilling at her first proposal. Instead, it felt like lead in her chest.
"Mary?" James said, coming to stand beside her.
"If I was your wife, would you let me have a garden?" Mary asked, not turning to look at him.
"Of course! You could have whatever you wanted," James frowned. "A whole orchard of gardens to sit and read in."
"To plant in?" Mary pressed. "To dig and plant and water and get covered with dirt in?"
James was frowning now.
"I don't understand, Mary. Why would you want to do that? We'd have gardeners to do that for us." He put his arms around her, and gently drew her in until she was pressed against him. "Dearest Mary. We will be happy forever. You loved our estate on the seashore, you'll love it even more when it's your home!"
Leave Misstelthwait? The idea was unacceptable. At the very thought, Mary felt like something was being ripped out of her soul. This was all wrong. She felt ill.
Mary pulled away from him, removing his arms from around her.
"Please, Mr. Harrington."
"James," He gently corrected.
"James. I'm sorry, but I can't accept your proposal."
James went very still.
Mary could feel the tears coming now.
"I just can't. I'm sorry," she said, slipping out of the library.
Mary managed to keep her tears at bay until she reached the gardens. It was too awful, her first proposal had turned into such a disaster. She should marry James, she knew. He was the correct status for her, he was rich and handsome and charming. And yet, she felt nothing for him but a vague sort of camaraderie and flattery at his attention, she saw that now. But not love. Why couldn't she love him? She ought to. But the very thought of marrying him made her feel as though she were hollow inside.
Mary hurried along the neatly groomed garden paths, hoping that she wouldn't come across anybody. It was a good thing she knew the paths so well, for her sight was obscured by tears. She rushed to the door of the Secret Garden, pushing it open roughly and launching herself inside. She ran all the way to the swing, and cast herself on the grass beside it, not caring for the stains that would result on her skirt. There, she curled her knees up and wept until she had no more tears left.
Her sobs finally abated, leaving her feeling exhausted. The scent of roses was beginning to permeate her senses, calming her. She wiped her eyes and took in deep breaths, steadying breaths of it.
She laughed shakily to herself. What a fright she must be! She stood, brushing off her skirt as best she could and sitting on the swing, gently pushing herself with her heels.
She heard the door open, and knew what it meant immediately. The crunching footsteps on the path got closer.
"Dickon?" she called. "I'm on the swing."
Dickon rounded the path, a squirrel perched on each shoulder.
"Miss Mary. I did no' expect to be seein' thee here."
"I didn't expect to be here myself," Mary said, looking down.
"While thou'rt here, wilt thou help me with the weedin'?" Dickon asked, helping both squirrels to the ground. They ran off chattering into a nearby tree.
Mary smiled, feeling her cares fall from her. Weeding was such a comforting activity. She followed him to a patch of earth, and accepted a trowel from him, the familiar motions of pulling weeds soothing her. they worked in silence.
Mary glanced over at Dickon, at the peaceful set of his face. He was focused on his work, not looking up at her. She could see tension in the set of his shoulders. She wondered what it was. He wasn't handsome like James Harrington was handsome. And yet, she thought his face very beautiful. It was in the ruddiness of his cheeks, the broadness of his shoulders, the way his blue eyes sparkled with the joy of being alive. He made her heart want to sing, like it had wings and was ready to launch itself out onto the moor, if he was with her. She realized, with a start, that if Dickon were to hold her the way James had been earlier, she would not break away.
He was like light and air, and she needed both to survive. Martha's words came back to her, and suddenly everything was very clear. She almost laughed out loud at the simplicity of it all. Why had she not always known it?
Mary sat back on her heels, letting her trowel dangle from her fingers.
"Dickon?" she said, breaking the calm. "I have something to tell you."
"I knowd it already," said Dickon without looking up.
Mary dropped her trowel in surprise.
"How can you? I only just discovered it myself!"
Dickon looked up at her then, and there was such heartbreak in his face that it stole her breath.
"Congratulations on thy engagement," he choked.
Mary blinked. Then she began to laugh.
"The servants really do know everything!"
"Martha had it from th' maid," Dickon said quietly. "Tha Mr. Harringon has asked thee to marry him."
"The servants only know half the story," Mary said. "I'm not engaged. I turned him down."
"Tha aren't? Tha did?" Dickon breathed, as if he was a drowning man coming up for air. "But she said…"
"James Harrington did propose," Mary admitted, flushing. "But I said no."
"Why?" Dickon asked. "He's a fine gentleman wi' lots o' money who could give thee a fine home. He could take care of thee."
"I don't love him," Mary admitted. "The thought of marrying him feels all wrong." Mary swallowed and summed up that pluck which she was so famous for. "It's not James I love. It's you, Dickon."
Dickon stared at her in blank astonishment for a moment. Then, he dropped his trowel and got to his feet. He was walking away.
Mary scrambled to her feet and rushed after him. This was not how she had expected him to react at all.
"Dickon! Where are you going?" she demanded. "Wait, please!" She reached out, grabbing hold of his arm.
Dickon swung around. For the first time since Mary had know him, there was anger in his usually cheery face.
"Does tha take me for a fool, Mary?" He asked roughly. "Does tha think because I am a poor gardener and thou a fine lady that tha can play with me?"
"I'm not playing with you!" Mary said, standing her ground.
There was fire in Dickon's eyes now.
"Someone has told thee," he said. "Someone has whispered in thine ear 'ow much I… 'ow much I care for thee. 'Ow it breaks my heart to see thee with another man. And thou thought it good sport to play games with me. Wilt thou break my heart over and over again? It can no' stand it! Wilt thy silly geese of friends giggle over me when thou art finished?"
Mary stared at him with wide eyes. Was this what he thought of her?
"I've not told anybody," she said, her voice just above a whisper. "I didn't… I mean, I only know how I feel, and I only knew it from a few moments go. I saw how different James was from you, how differently he made me feel. It's not him that makes the sunshine come out, it's you."
"Sunshine?" Dickon's expression was changing from angry to confused.
"It's something Martha said. She said when you love someone, it's like they're the sunshine on the moor. Everything is warmer and brighter when they're around. That's how you make me feel, Dickon."
Mary's hand was still on Dickon's arm, but now it was a gentle touch. She looked up into his eyes, willing him to understand.
"Eh, Mary," Dickon breathed. "Does tha mean it? Truly?
"Truly I do," said Mary, in her ill-practiced Yorkshire accent. It had been years since she had attempted it. "I mean it wi' all o' my heart."
Dickon's smile was radiant.
"Thou art a wonder," he said.
He was standing very close to her now, his tall shoulders bent towards her. In spite of herself, Mary stretched up on her toes, and they met in a gentle kiss. His arms instinctively went around her.
It was a very different embrace than the one that James had caught her in that morning. Whereas with James she had felt trapped, like she couldn't get away, with Dickon she felt safe, protected. While Dickon's arms were around her, no harm could come to her.
Dickon rested his forehead against hers, his eyes closed.
"I dreamed o' this moment," he said softly. "Am I dreamin' yet?"
"If you are, I am too," said Mary. "Do you love me?"
"Thou knows I do."
"Say it," Mary whispered.
"I love thee," Dickon's voice was rough with emotion. "I 'ave loved thee since we was children together in this 'ere very garden. Since I first 'eard Martha tell of the strange, lonely Miss Mary from India, I 'ave loved thee."
Mary leaned up and kissed him again. He tasted like sunshine and fresh air through the moor grass.
"But I'm nawt but a poor gardener," Dickon reminded her. They were seated on the grass now, still in each other's arms. Mary could not imagine a place she would rather be.
"Hmm?" she said, looking up at him, memorizing the plains of his dear face.
"I'm a gardener," he repeated. "And tha'rt the lady of the house. There'll be a terrific scandal."
"The bigger the better. I don't care."
"Thy uncle will care," Dickon reminded her. " 'E'll forbid it. 'E'll want thee to make a proper match."
Mary scowled. She didn't want any rainclouds to come between her and the sun. Not now, anyways.
"I don't care," she repeated. "He can't do anything about how we feel about each other."
" 'E can stop thee from seeing me," Dickon reminded her. " 'E can dismiss me, sen' me away."
"I won't let him," Mary snuggled herself deeper into his arms, as if he were going to be ripped from her right away. "I won't let you go."
" 'E can withhold thy money," Dickon reminded her.
"Oh, I'm not worried about that," Mary said. "I've money from my parents that I inherit on my eighteenth birthday. And eighteen isn't so very far away. Only a year. Can you wait a year?"
Dickon's smile made her knees feel weak. It was a good thing she was already sitting down.
"I 'ave waited for thee seven years, Mary. What's one more?"
James Harrington was not used to being denied. As the favorite son of an ailing widow, he had been pampered and indulged all his life. His good looks and charm had made him a favorite among the ladies, none of whom had ever said no to him either.
Until now. This Mary Lennox, who did she think she was, to deny him? He was offering her his estate, his ancestral name, everything. And she refused?
James stormed out of the library, feeling too confined by walls. He needed to get outside, to think. Without so much as fetching his coat, he marched headlong out the doors of Misstlethwait manner and into the gardens. It was the quiet of early morning, and no one but the servants were up. As he walked among the fruit trees of the orchard, his mind raged.
Deny him? Refuse him? It was impossible. Inconcievable. Yet Mary Lennox has done it. She had refused him in the most callous way imaginable, brushing him off as if he was nothing. Nothing!
In his blind marching, James had gotten farther from the house than he had thought. He was now on a long gravel path, surrounded on both sides by high, ivy-covered walls. Glancing behind him, he saw Misstlethwait rising above the walls of swinging ivy, an idomidable gray fortress. A spark of curiosity worked its way through James' fog of anger. Where did this path lead?
Ahead, the swinging curtain of ivy jutted out a little. James advanced, moving the long tendrils of ivy away to reveal a heavy, antique door, slightly ajar. James pushed it open enough to slip through. It made no noise as it was pushed open - it may have looked antique, but it was well-oiled.
James ducked as he entered, and bit back a gasp of surprise. Inside was a paradise of flowers. Whereas outside the wall had overflowed with ivy, inside it overflowed with roses. They snaked up the gray stone surface, covering it entirely with green vines and bright flowers. The scent was almost overpowering. Wonderingly, James crept forward, further into this undiscovered wilderness. Following a gravel path, he was charmed to find a Grecian statue tucked in behind some ferns. Water trickled from her vase into a small stream, which flowed into a midsized pond. James ducked down to examine the statue, and was in this position when he heard the voices.
One was a rough man's voice, with an uncouth Yorkshire accent. The other was a woman's voice, sweet and high, one that he knew very well.
"Wilt thou no' even look at the Empress, Mary?" asked the man.
Mary, for it was Mary Lennox, laughed.
"The Empress of India gets far too much attention, spoiled thing," she replied.
Peering through the ferns, James was able to make them out. Mary, his Mary, was walking through the grass. In one hand she held her shoes, tied together at the laces. The other she moved around expressively as she talked. The man beside her, the gardener James remembered for earlier in the week, was grinning widely at her. James did not like his smile. It was far too familiar for a servant.
"Does tha not think the Empress is beautiful?" the gardener, Dickon, asked Mary.
"She's too showy," Mary said, throwing her shoes down on the grass. She was both barefoot and bareheaded, her hat also abandoned on the grass.
"She's beautiful. Tall, graceful, full o' colour. Jus' what a flower should be."
"But look at the other flowers around her," insisted Mary. "They're lovely too. They deserve your attention."
"I've eyes for none but th' Empress," said Dickon. To James' utter astonishment, he siezed Mary's hand and pulled her towards him. Mary, instead of being outraged at he liberty her servant was taking with her person, came willingly, letting his rough hands slide down her arm and come to rest on her waist.
"Is that so?" she said, looking up at him.
"Aye," he replied. "I've no thoughts for any flower but 'er since she was a seedlin'. She be th' prettiest flower in this 'ere Garden."
"What about the roses?" Mary asked, somewhat breathlessly.
"Aye, prettier than th' roses," siad Dickon. He leaned down and caught Mary's lips in a kiss.
Now, thought James, she will push him away. Instead, Mary clung tighter, wrapping her arms around the common moor boy and running her hands through his curly hair.
Dickon grinned against her lips, picking her small frame up and twirling her around. Mary laughed in delight, tipping her face up to the sun.
"Is it possible to be so happy you're filled with it?" Mary asked, leaning dizzily against Dickon. "I feel as though I'm a cup that's filled to the brim, and I'm spilling over."
"I knowed how that is," Dickon replied. "I can scarce believe i'. Doest tha' love me?"
"Always," Mary answered. "No one else but you. I'm like the Empress - I needed the sun shining on me to open up and show my petals." She slid her hands into his so that their fingers laced together between them.
James watched, almost hypnotized by the scene in front of him. Here was proud, aloof Miss Lennox, who he had persued for almost a year, making a fool of herself for a gardener. She had spurned him for a gardener. He burned with righteous anger.
"I wish we could stay here forever, in the garden," Mary was saying. She linked her small, pale hand with Dickon's large, rough, brown one, and they strolled from flower bed to flower bed.
"We'd ha' t'go inside sometime, Mary," Dickon laughed.
Mary shook her head, wisps of hair fallen from her careful bun dancing around her face like strands of gold thread.
"We could build a cottage right here in the garden. And never leave."
Dickon laughed, a deep, full sound.
"Aye, we could. Let's do tha', shall we? An' never leave, jus' th' two of us in our garden fore'er."
Mary nodded, laughing.
"An' we'd build it right by th' swing. Beside th' oak. An' eat nuts brought to us by th' squirrels."
Mary laughed again.
"Now you're just getting silly."
"Aye, to see thee smile," he replied. With one calloused finger, he tipped Mary's chin up and captured her lips in another kiss.
Mary broke away, a spark of mischief in her blue eyes.
"Bet I can beat you to the swing!" she said, darting away from him.
"We've playd thi' game before, Mary, thou knows thou can't!" Dickon replied, dashing after her.
"No fair, you've got longer legs than me!" Mary threw over her shoulder as she ran full tilt around the corner, with Dickon close behind.
James crouched frozen in his hiding spot for a long time after they had disappeared from sight. He could still hear their laughter echoing around the garden, a low rumbling one and a high tinkling one intermingling freely. He felt stunned. He felt as though someone had struck him. Could this laughing fairy be the same grave girl who had spurned him a few hours ago? That girl could not be Mary Lennox, who was known for her cool self posession and her biting sarcarms. Mary Lennox knew her status, would never kiss a gardener and then challange him to a race.
Mary Lennox was his. He just needed time to make her see it. And yet... she had never laughed for him like that.
Finally, James's limbs came unglued, and he was able to get to his feet. He was stiff from crouching in the same position for so long. His walk back to the manor was part righteous anger, part contemplation.
Colin was in the billiard room when James Harrington came in. Colin didn't really like James. Oh, he was rich and respectible and handsome. But to tell truth, he was, well, boring. Mary needed somebody interesting, somebody who would keep her on her toes. Harrington was bland as pudding.
But Mary seemed to like him, or at the very least to like the attentions he paid to her. So he stayed around, gambling with Colin and his friends and flirting with all the girls.
As he came in the billiard room, Colin looked up, surprised. London folk usually kept London hours, not getting up till one in the afternoon at the very lastest. It was only eleven o'clock in the morning. Colin himself had never seen much point in keeping such late hours. Why, the whole morning was gone at that rate! No time to do anything like read or do any experiments. Colin leaned on his pool cue and cocked an eyebrow at Harrington.
"You're up early. Fancy a rack?" he asked.
Harrington shook his head.
"Craven, there's something I must talk to you about," he said.
Uh oh. Here it came. Harrington was going to ask Colin's opinion about marrying Mary, and Colin was going to have to lie, for the sake of his cousin's happiness.
"Yes?" said Colin, keeping his voice nonchalant.
"It's about Mary - Miss Lennox."
Colin turned to the pool table, spressing a sigh.
"It's not me you need to talk to, old man. If you want permission for her hand, you've got to talk to my father. He's her guardian."
"It's... it's not that," said Harrington.
Colin turned to him in surprised, and not a small amount of indignation on Mary's behalf.
"What? Don't you like her? What's the matter with you? She's beautiful and accomplished! What more could a man want in a wife?"
Harrington had gone red in the face.
"A girl who doesn't consort with gardeners!" he burst out. He took a deep breath to steady himself, and helped himself to some brandy sitting on the sideboard in a decanter. He took a large swig before speaking again. "There. I've said it. I came here to tell you that your cousin Miss Lennox is carrying on with a gardener. I saw them just now, out in the gardens, laughing and carrying on."
"Oh," said Colin, waving his hand dismissively. "That's just Dickon. We've all been friends since we were children. Mary's not stuck up about class, you know. She's friendly with all the locals hereabouts."
Harrington's lip curled.
"Yes," he sneered. "Very friendly."
Colin didn't like his tone.
"What's that supposed to mean?" He demanded.
"It means that what I saw Miss Lennox and that... that gardener doing was beyond the bounds of friendship. No proper wellbred lady would act like that to a man not her husband. I should be ashamed if it were my sister!"
Colin whistled through his teeth.
"Mary? And Dickon? Together?"
Harrington swallowed visibly and took another gulp of his brandy.
"Kissing and embracing." He face clearly showed that this was the most damning evidence of all. "I saw it, with my own eyes."
Colin let out a whoop of joy and jumped into the air.
"Finally!" he yelled.
Harrington stared at him as if he had gone mad.
"Have you taken leave of your senses, Craven?" He demanded. "I tell you, your cousin has lost her reputation. No respectable man will want to marry her now."
"Don't you see?" said Colin, delighted. "Dickon wants to marry her. Why, they've been in love with each other since the first day, but I thought they would never see it!"
"Your father will never let Miss Lennox marry a gardener," said Harrington with contempt.
"He's not a gardener," he said. "He's Dickon. Now if you'll excuse me, Harrington, I have to go find Mary and ask when the wedding is."
He dropped his cue unceremoniously onto the table, and ran joyously out of the room, leaving a gobsmacked Harrington behind him.
When she was 18, Mary walked through the door of her Garden once again. She had prayed for sunshine, and the Lord above seemed to have heard her pleas, because it was a bright summer morning to rival the clearest day in creation.
"Do I look alright?" She whispered to her uncle, fidgiting with the sleeve of her dress.
Lord Craven smiled down on her, his dark eyes suspiciously wet.
"You look so exactly like your aunt," he said. "You are an angel."
Mary smoothed the skirt of her dress down for the hundreth time. White was such an impractical colour for a garden, but then she'd rather have it here, where it all began, than anyplace where her dress would stay clean.
"Are you ready?" Lord Craven asked her.
"Let's just get this over with. Before Dickon changes his mind."
Her uncle smiled.
"I doubt he will do that, my dear. I've never seen a man more in love. Unless it was myself, twenty years ago."
Colin popped his head through the Garden door, looking uncomfortably starched up in a new celuloid collar and pale gray suit.
"Are you coming or not, cuz?" he demanded. "Dickon's getting nervous."
"I'm coming, I'm coming," Mary snapped, feeling her courage return with her contraryness.
"Good," said Colin. "Because everyone's waiting for you to make your appearance. Oh, and Dickon said to give you this." He handed Mary a flower. She took it, turning it over in her hands. It was the Empress of India lily, its pale petals opening out into the sunlight.
"May I?" Lord Craven asked.
Mary nodded mutely, letting him take the flower from her fingers.
Lord Craven took the lily and tucked it gently into the knot of golden curls at the nape of Mary's neck.
"There," he said. "Now you are perfect. Now we can begin."
Colin nodded, and popped back into the garden.
Lord Craven took Mary's hand and tucked it in to the crook of his arm. He smiled at her panicked expression.
"Smile, my dear child. You're getting married," he said.
Mary managed a weak smile.
"Better," said Lord Craven. Then, he opened the door, and led her through it.
The Garden was a bower of blossoms, a riot of colour and purfumes along the winding gravel walkways. A strain of violins floated on the breeze as they made their way around the bend in the path, past the half-hidden fountain and the Grecian urn, and towards the swing. On the open stretch of lawn was an array of chairs, with many familiar faces, all eyes turned to Mary as she walked up on her uncle's arm. But Mary wasn't looking at any of them.
There, at the end of the makeshift aisle, was Dickon, his blue eyes, blue as the sky overhead, were bright with joy, and his ruddy complexion shone out happiness as he watched her come towards him.
He looked like sunshine.