THE ROBIN WHO SHOWED THE WAY She looked at the key quite a long time. She turned itover and over, and thought about it. As I have said before,she was not a child who had been trained to ask permissionor consult her elders about things. All she thought aboutthe key was that if it was the key to the closed garden,and she could find out where the door was, she couldperhaps open it and see what was inside the walls,and what had happened to the old rose-trees. It was becauseit had been shut up so long that she wanted to see it.It seemed as if it must be different from other placesand that something strange must have happened to itduring ten years. Besides that, if she liked it shecould go into it every day and shut the door behind her,and she could make up some play of her own and play itquite alone, because nobody would ever know where she was,but would think the door was still locked and the keyburied in the earth. The thought of that pleased hervery much. Living as it were, all by herself in a house with a hundredmysteriously closed rooms and having nothing whateverto do to amuse herself, had set her inactive brainto working and was actually awakening her imagination.There is no doubt that the fresh, strong, pure air from themoor had a great deal to do with it. Just as it had givenher an appetite, and fighting with the wind had stirredher blood, so the same things had stirred her mind.In India she had always been too hot and languid and weakto care much about anything, but in this place shewas beginning to care and to want to do new things.Already she felt less "contrary," though she did notknow why. She put the key in her pocket and walked up and downher walk. No one but herself ever seemed to come there,so she could walk slowly and look at the wall, or, rather,at the ivy growing on it. The ivy was the baffling thing.Howsoever carefully she looked she could see nothingbut thickly growing, glossy, dark green leaves. She wasvery much disappointed. Something of her contrarinesscame back to her as she paced the walk and looked over itat the tree-tops inside. It seemed so silly, she saidto herself, to be near it and not be able to get in.She took the key in her pocket when she went back tothe house, and she made up her mind that she would alwayscarry it with her when she went out, so that if she evershould find the hidden door she would be ready. Mrs. Medlock had allowed Martha to sleep all night atthe cottage, but she was back at her work in the morningwith cheeks redder than ever and in the best of spirits. "I got up at four o'clock," she said. "Eh! it was pretty on th'moor with th' birds gettin' up an' th' rabbits scamperin'about an' th' sun risin'. I didn't walk all th' way. A mangave me a ride in his cart an' I did enjoy myself." She was full of stories of the delights of her day out.Her mother had been glad to see her and they had got thebaking and washing all out of the way. She had even madeeach of the children a doughcake with a bit of brown sugarin it. "I had 'em all pipin' hot when they came in from playin'on th' moor. An' th' cottage all smelt o' nice, clean hot bakin'an' there was a good fire, an' they just shouted for joy.Our Dickon he said our cottage was good enough for a king." In the evening they had all sat round the fire,and Martha and her mother had sewed patches on tornclothes and mended stockings and Martha had told themabout the little girl who had come from India and who hadbeen waited on all her life by what Martha called "blacks"until she didn't know how to put on her own stockings. "Eh! they did like to hear about you," said Martha."They wanted to know all about th' blacks an' about th'ship you came in. I couldn't tell 'em enough." Mary reflected a little. "I'll tell you a great deal more before your next day out,"she said, "so that you will have more to talk about.I dare say they would like to hear about riding on elephantsand camels, and about the officers going to hunt tigers." "My word!" cried delighted Martha. "It would set 'emclean off their heads. Would tha' really do that,Miss? It would be same as a wild beast show like we heardthey had in York once." "India is quite different from Yorkshire," Mary said slowly,as she thought the matter over. "I never thought of that.Did Dickon and your mother like to hear you talk about me?" "Why, our Dickon's eyes nearly started out o' his head,they got that round," answered Martha. "But mother, she wasput out about your seemin' to be all by yourself like.She said, 'Hasn't Mr. Craven got no governess for her,nor no nurse?' and I said, 'No, he hasn't, though Mrs. Medlocksays he will when he thinks of it, but she says he mayn'tthink of it for two or three years.'" "I don't want a governess," said Mary sharply. "But mother says you ought to be learnin' your book by this timean'
you ought to have a woman to look after you, an' she says:`Now, Martha, you just think how you'd feel yourself, in a bigplace like that, wanderin' about all alone, an' no mother.You do your best to cheer her up,' she says, an' I said I would."
Mary gave her a long, steady look. "You do cheer me up," she said. "I like to hear you talk." Presently Martha went out of the room and came backwith something held in her hands under her apron. "What does tha' think," she said, with a cheerful grin."I've brought thee a present." "A present!" exclaimed Mistress Mary. How could a cottagefull of fourteen hungry people give any one a present! "A man was drivin' across the moor peddlin'," Martha explained."An' he stopped his cart at our door. He had pots an'pans an' odds an' ends, but mother had no money to buyanythin'. Just as he was goin' away our 'Lizabeth Ellencalled out, `Mother, he's got skippin'-ropes with red an'blue handles.' An' mother she calls out quite sudden,`Here, stop, mister! How much are they?' An' he says`Tuppence', an' mother she began fumblin' in her pocket an'she says to me, `Martha, tha's brought me thy wages likea good lass, an' I've got four places to put every penny,but I'm just goin' to take tuppence out of it to buythat child a skippin'-rope,' an' she bought one an'here it is." She brought it out from under her apron and exhibitedit quite proudly. It was a strong, slender ropewith a striped red and blue handle at each end,but Mary Lennox had never seen a skipping-rope before.She gazed at it with a mystified expression. "What is it for?" she asked curiously. "For!" cried out Martha. "Does tha' mean that they've notgot skippin'-ropes in India, for all they've got elephantsand tigers and camels! No wonder most of 'em's black.This is what it's for; just watch me." And she ran into the middle of the room and, taking ahandle in each hand, began to skip, and skip, and skip,while Mary turned in her chair to stare at her, and thequeer faces in the old portraits seemed to stare at her,too, and wonder what on earth this common little cottagerhad the impudence to be doing under their very noses.But Martha did not even see them. The interest and curiosityin Mistress Mary's face delighted her, and she went on skippingand counted as she skipped until she had reached a hundred. "I could skip longer than that," she said when she stopped."I've skipped as much as five hundred when I was twelve,but I wasn't as fat then as I am now, an' I was in practice." Mary got up from her chair beginning to feel excited herself. "It looks nice," she said. "Your mother is a kind woman.Do you think I could ever skip like that?" "You just try it," urged Martha, handing her the skipping- rope."You can't skip a hundred at first, but if you practiceyou'll mount up. That's what mother said. She says,`Nothin' will do her more good than skippin' rope. It's th'sensiblest toy a child can have. Let her play out in th'fresh air skippin' an' it'll stretch her legs an' arms an'give her some strength in 'em.'" It was plain that there was not a great deal of strengthin Mistress Mary's arms and legs when she first beganto skip. She was not very clever at it, but she likedit so much that she did not want to stop. "Put on tha' things and run an' skip out o' doors,"said Martha. "Mother said I must tell you to keep out o'doors as much as you could, even when it rains a bit,so as tha' wrap up warm." Mary put on her coat and hat and took her skipping-ropeover her arm. She opened the door to go out, and thensuddenly thought of something and turned back rather slowly. "Martha," she said, "they were your wages. It was yourtwo-pence really. Thank you." She said it stifflybecause she was not used to thanking people or noticingthat they did things for her. "Thank you," she said,and held out her hand because she did not know what elseto do. Martha gave her hand a clumsy little shake, as if shewas not accustomed to this sort of thing either.Then she laughed. "Eh! th' art a queer, old-womanish thing," she said."If tha'd been our 'Lizabeth Ellen tha'd have given mea kiss." Mary looked stiffer than ever. "Do you want me to kiss you?" Martha laughed again. "Nay, not me," she answered. "If tha' was different,p'raps tha'd want to thysel'. But tha' isn't. Run offoutside an' play with thy rope." Mistress Mary felt a little awkward as she went out ofthe room. Yorkshire people seemed strange, and Martha wasalways rather a puzzle to her. At first she had dislikedher very much, but now she did not. The skipping-ropewas a wonderful thing. She counted and skipped,and skipped and counted, until her cheeks were quite red,and she was more interested than she had ever been sinceshe was born. The sun was shining and a little wind wasblowing--not a rough wind, but one which came in delightfullittle gusts and brought a fresh scent of newly turnedearth with it. She skipped round the fountain garden,and up one walk and down another. She skipped at lastinto the kitchen-garden and saw Ben Weatherstaff diggingand talking to his robin, which was hopping about him.She skipped down the walk toward him and he liftedhis head and looked at her with a curious expression.She had wondered if he would notice her. She wanted himto see her skip. "Well!" he exclaimed. "Upon my word. P'raps tha'art a young 'un, after all, an' p'raps tha's gotchild's blood in thy veins instead of sour buttermilk.Tha's skipped red into thy cheeks as sure as my name'sBen Weatherstaff. I wouldn't have believed tha'could do it." "I never skipped before," Mary said. "I'm just beginning.I can only go up to twenty." "Tha' keep on," said Ben. "Tha' shapes well enough at itfor a young 'un that's lived with heathen. Just see howhe's watchin' thee," jerking his head toward the robin."He followed after thee yesterday. He'll be at it again today.He'll be bound to find out what th' skippin'-rope is.He's never seen one. Eh!" shaking his head at the bird,"tha' curiosity will be th' death of thee sometime if tha'doesn't look sharp." Mary skipped round all the gardens and round the orchard,resting every few minutes. At length she went to herown special walk and made up her mind to try if shecould skip the whole length of it. It was a good longskip and she began slowly, but before she had gonehalf-way down the path she was so hot and breathlessthat she was obliged to stop. She did not mind much,because she had already counted up to thirty.She stopped with a little laugh of pleasure, and there,lo and behold, was the robin swaying on a long branch of ivy.He had followed her and he greeted her with a chirp.As Mary had skipped toward him she felt something heavyin her pocket strike against her at each jump, and when shesaw the robin she laughed again. "You showed me where the key was yesterday," she said."You ought to show me the door today; but I don't believeyou know!" The robin flew from his swinging spray of ivy on to thetop of the wall and he opened his beak and sang a loud,lovely trill, merely to show off. Nothing in the worldis quite as adorably lovely as a robin when he showsoff--and they are nearly always doing it. Mary Lennox had heard a great deal about Magic in herAyah's stories, and she always said that what happenedalmost at that moment was Magic. One of the nice little gusts of wind rushed downthe walk, and it was a stronger one than the rest.It was strong enough to wave the branches of the trees,and it was more than strong enough to sway the trailingsprays of untrimmed ivy hanging from the wall. Mary hadstepped close to the robin, and suddenly the gust of windswung aside some loose ivy trails, and more suddenlystill she jumped toward it and caught it in her hand.This she did because she had seen something under it--a roundknob which had been covered by the leaves hanging over it.It was the knob of a door. She put her hands under the leaves and began to pulland push them aside. Thick as the ivy hung, it nearlyall was a loose and swinging curtain, though some had creptover wood and iron. Mary's heart began to thump and herhands to shake a little in her delight and excitement.The robin kept singing and twittering away and tiltinghis head on one side, as if he were as excited as she was.What was this under her hands which was square and madeof iron and which her fingers found a hole in? It was the lock of the door which had been closed tenyears and she put her hand in her pocket, drew out the keyand found it fitted the keyhole. She put the key in andturned it. It took two hands to do it, but it did turn. And then she took a long breath and looked behindher up the long walk to see if any one was coming.No one was coming. No one ever did come, it seemed,and she took another long breath, because she could nothelp it, and she held back the swinging curtain of ivyand pushed back the door which opened slowly--slowly. Then she slipped through it, and shut it behind her,and stood with her back against it, looking about herand breathing quite fast with excitement, and wonder,and delight. She was standing inside the secret garden.