THE STRANGEST HOUSE ANY ONE EVER LIVED IN It was the sweetest, most mysterious-looking placeany one could imagine. The high walls which shut itin were covered with the leafless stems of climbing roseswhich were so thick that they were matted together.Mary Lennox knew they were roses because she had seena great many roses in India. All the ground was coveredwith grass of a wintry brown and out of it grew clumpsof bushes which were surely rosebushes if they were alive.There were numbers of standard roses which had so spreadtheir branches that they were like little trees.There were other trees in the garden, and one of thethings which made the place look strangest and loveliestwas that climbing roses had run all over them and swungdown long tendrils which made light swaying curtains,and here and there they had caught at each other orat a far-reaching branch and had crept from one treeto another and made lovely bridges of themselves.There were neither leaves nor roses on them now and Marydid not know whether they were dead or alive, but theirthin gray or brown branches and sprays looked like a sortof hazy mantle spreading over everything, walls, and trees,and even brown grass, where they had fallen from theirfastenings and run along the ground. It was this hazy tanglefrom tree to tree which made it all look so mysterious.Mary had thought it must be different from other gardenswhich had not been left all by themselves so long;and indeed it was different from any other place she hadever seen in her life. "How still it is!" she whispered. "How still!" Then she waited a moment and listened at the stillness.The robin, who had flown to his treetop, was stillas all the rest. He did not even flutter his wings;he sat without stirring, and looked at Mary. "No wonder it is still," she whispered again. "I amthe first person who has spoken in here for ten years." She moved away from the door, stepping as softly as if shewere afraid of awakening some one. She was glad that therewas grass under her feet and that her steps made no sounds.She walked under one of the fairy-like gray archesbetween the trees and looked up at the sprays and tendrilswhich formed them. "I wonder if they are all quite dead,"she said. "Is it all a quite dead garden? I wish it wasn't." If she had been Ben Weatherstaff she could have toldwhether the wood was alive by looking at it, but shecould only see that there were only gray or brown spraysand branches and none showed any signs of even a tinyleaf-bud anywhere. But she was inside the wonderful garden and she couldcome through the door under the ivy any time and shefelt as if she had found a world all her own. The sun was shining inside the four walls and the high archof blue sky over this particular piece of Misselthwaiteseemed even more brilliant and soft than it was overthe moor. The robin flew down from his tree-top andhopped about or flew after her from one bush to another.He chirped a good deal and had a very busy air, as if hewere showing her things. Everything was strange andsilent and she seemed to be hundreds of miles away fromany one, but somehow she did not feel lonely at all.All that troubled her was her wish that she knew whetherall the roses were dead, or if perhaps some of them hadlived and might put out leaves and buds as the weathergot warmer. She did not want it to be a quite dead garden.If it were a quite alive garden, how wonderful it would be,and what thousands of roses would grow on every side! Her skipping-rope had hung over her arm when she camein and after she had walked about for a while she thoughtshe would skip round the whole garden, stopping when shewanted to look at things. There seemed to have beengrass paths here and there, and in one or two cornersthere were alcoves of evergreen with stone seats or tallmoss-covered flower urns in them. As she came near the second of these alcoves shestopped skipping. There had once been a flowerbed in it,and she thought she saw something sticking out of theblack earth- -some sharp little pale green points.She remembered what Ben Weatherstaff had said and sheknelt down to look at them. "Yes, they are tiny growing things and they might becrocuses or snowdrops or daffodils," she whispered. She bent very close to them and sniffed the fresh scentof the damp earth. She liked it very much. "Perhaps there are some other ones coming up in other places,"she said. "I will go all over the garden and look." She did not skip, but walked. She went slowly and kepther eyes on the ground. She looked in the old borderbeds and among the grass, and after she had gone round,trying to miss nothing, she had found ever so many more sharp,pale green points, and she had become quite excited again. "It isn't a quite dead garden," she cried out softly to herself."Even if the roses are dead, there are other things alive." She did not know anything about gardening, but the grassseemed so thick in some of the places where the greenpoints were pushing their way through that she thoughtthey did not seem to have room enough to grow.She searched about until she found a rather sharp pieceof wood and knelt down and dug and weeded out the weedsand grass until she made nice little clear places around them. "Now they look as if they could breathe," she said,after she had finished with the first ones. "I amgoing to do ever so many more. I'll do all I can see.If I haven't time today I can come tomorrow." She went from place to place, and dug and weeded,and enjoyed herself so immensely that she was led onfrom bed to bed and into the grass under the trees.The exercise made her so warm that she first threw hercoat off, and then her hat, and without knowing it shewas smiling down on to the grass and the pale green pointsall the time. The robin was tremendously busy. He was very muchpleased to see gardening begun on his own estate.He had often wondered at Ben Weatherstaff. Where gardeningis done all sorts of delightful things to eat are turnedup with the soil. Now here was this new kind of creaturewho was not half Ben's size and yet had had the senseto come into his garden and begin at once. Mistress Mary worked in her garden until it was timeto go to her midday dinner. In fact, she was ratherlate in remembering, and when she put on her coatand hat, and picked up her skipping-rope, she could notbelieve that she had been working two or three hours.She had been actually happy all the time; and dozensand dozens of the tiny, pale green points were to be seenin cleared places, looking twice as cheerful as they hadlooked before when the grass and weeds had been smothering them. "I shall come back this afternoon," she said, looking allround at her new kingdom, and speaking to the treesand the rose-bushes as if they heard her. Then she ran lightly across the grass, pushed openthe slow old door and slipped through it under the ivy.She had such red cheeks and such bright eyes and ate sucha dinner that Martha was delighted. "Two pieces o' meat an' two helps o' rice puddin'!" she said."Eh! mother will be pleased when I tell her what th'skippin'-rope's done for thee." In the course of her digging with her pointed stickMistress Mary had found herself digging up a sort of whiteroot rather like an onion. She had put it back in itsplace and patted the earth carefully down on it and justnow she wondered if Martha could tell her what it was. "Martha," she said, "what are those white roots that looklike onions?" "They're bulbs," answered Martha. "Lots o' spring flowersgrow from 'em. Th' very little ones are snowdrops an'crocuses an' th' big ones are narcissuses an' jonquilsand daffydowndillys. Th' biggest of all is lilies an'purple flags. Eh! they are nice. Dickon's got a wholelot of 'em planted in our bit o' garden." "Does Dickon know all about them?" asked Mary, a new ideataking possession of her. "Our Dickon can make a flower grow out of a brick walk.Mother says he just whispers things out o' th' ground." "Do bulbs live a long time? Would they live years andyears if no one helped them?" inquired Mary anxiously. "They're things as helps themselves," said Martha. "That's whypoor folk can afford to have 'em. If you don't trouble 'em,most of 'em'll work away underground for a lifetime an'spread out an' have little 'uns. There's a place in th'park woods here where there's snowdrops by thousands.They're the prettiest sight in Yorkshire when th'spring comes. No one knows when they was first planted." "I wish the spring was here now," said Mary. "I wantto see all the things that grow in England." She had finished her dinner and gone to her favorite seaton the hearth-rug. "I wish--I wish I had a little spade," she said."Whatever does tha' want a spade for?" asked Martha, laughing."Art tha' goin' to take to diggin'? I must tell mother that,too." Mary looked at the fire and pondered a little. She mustbe careful if she meant to keep her secret kingdom.She wasn't doing any harm, but if Mr. Craven found outabout the open door he would be fearfully angry and geta new key and lock it up forevermore. She really couldnot bear that. "This is such a big lonely place," she said slowly, as if shewere turning matters over in her mind. "The house is lonely,and the park is lonely, and the gardens are lonely.So many places seem shut up. I never did many thingsin India, but there were more people to look at--nativesand soldiers marching by--and sometimes bands playing,and my Ayah told me stories. There is no one to talk tohere except you and Ben Weatherstaff. And you have to doyour work and Ben Weatherstaff won't speak to me often.I thought if I had a little spade I could dig somewhereas he does, and I might make a little garden if he wouldgive me some seeds." Martha's face quite lighted up. "There now!" she exclaimed, "if that wasn't one of th'things mother said. She says, `There's such a lot o'room in that big place, why don't they give her abit for herself, even if she doesn't plant nothin'but parsley an' radishes? She'd dig an' rake away an'be right down happy over it.' Them was the very wordsshe said." "Were they?" said Mary. "How many things she knows,doesn't she?" "Eh!" said Martha. "It's like she says: `A woman asbrings up twelve children learns something besides her AB C. Children's as good as 'rithmetic to set you findin'out things.'" "How much would a spade cost--a little one?" Mary asked. "Well," was Martha's reflective answer, "at Thwaitevillage there's a shop or so an' I saw little garden setswith a spade an' a rake an' a fork all tied together fortwo shillings. An' they was stout enough to work with, too." "I've got more than that in my purse," said Mary."Mrs. Morrison gave me five shillings and Mrs. Medlockgave me some money from Mr. Craven." "Did he remember thee that much?" exclaimed Martha. "Mrs. Medlock said I was to have a shilling a week to spend.She gives me one every Saturday. I didn't know what tospend it on." "My word! that's riches," said Martha. "Tha' can buyanything in th' world tha' wants. Th' rent of ourcottage is only one an' threepence an' it's like pullin'eye-teeth to get it. Now I've just thought of somethin',"putting her hands on her hips. "What?" said Mary eagerly. "In the shop at Thwaite they sell packages o'flower-seeds for a penny each, and our Dickon he knowswhich is th' prettiest ones an, how to make 'em grow.He walks over to Thwaite many a day just for th' fun of it.Does tha' know how to print letters?" suddenly. "I know how to write," Mary answered. Martha shook her head. "Our Dickon can only read printin'. If tha' could print wecould write a letter to him an' ask him to go an' buy th'garden tools an' th' seeds at th' same time." "Oh! you're a good girl!" Mary cried. "You are, really! Ididn't know you were so nice. I know I can print lettersif I try. Let's ask Mrs. Medlock for a pen and ink and somepaper." "I've got some of my own," said Martha. "I bought 'emso I could print a bit of a letter to mother of a Sunday.I'll go and get it." She ran out of the room, and Mary stoodby the fire and twisted her thin little hands togetherwith sheer pleasure. "If I have a spade," she whispered, "I can make the earthnice and soft and dig up weeds. If I have seeds and canmake flowers grow the garden won't be dead at all--itwill come alive." She did not go out again that afternoon because when Marthareturned with her pen and ink and paper she was obligedto clear the table and carry the plates and dishesdownstairs and when she got into the kitchen Mrs. Medlockwas there and told her to do something, so Mary waitedfor what seemed to her a long time before she came back.Then it was a serious piece of work to write to Dickon.Mary had been taught very little because her governesseshad disliked her too much to stay with her. She couldnot spell particularly well but she found that she couldprint letters when she tried. This was the letter Marthadictated to her: "My Dear Dickon: This comes hoping to find you well as it leaves me at present.Miss Mary has plenty of money and will you go to Thwaiteand buy her some flower seeds and a set of garden toolsto make a flower-bed. Pick the prettiest ones and easyto grow because she has never done it before and livedin India which is different. Give my love to motherand every one of you. Miss Mary is going to tell me a lotmore so that on my next day out you can hear about elephantsand camels and gentlemen going hunting lions and tigers.
"Your loving sister, Martha Phoebe Sowerby."
"We'll put the money in th' envelope an' I'll get th'butcher boy to take it in his cart. He's a greatfriend o' Dickon's," said Martha. "How shall I get the things when Dickon buys them?" "He'll bring 'em to you himself. He'll like to walkover this way." "Oh!" exclaimed Mary, "then I shall see him! I neverthought I should see Dickon." "Does tha' want to see him?" asked Martha suddenly,for Mary had looked so pleased. "Yes, I do. I never saw a boy foxes and crows loved.I want to see him very much." Martha gave a little start, as if she remembered something."Now to think," she broke out, "to think o' me forgettin'that there; an' I thought I was goin' to tell you firstthing this mornin'. I asked mother--and she said she'd askMrs. Medlock her own self." "Do you mean--" Mary began. "What I said Tuesday. Ask her if you might be driven overto our cottage some day and have a bit o' mother's hotoat cake, an' butter, an' a glass o' milk." It seemed as if all the interesting things were happeningin one day. To think of going over the moor in thedaylight and when the sky was blue! To think of goinginto the cottage which held twelve children! "Does she think Mrs. Medlock would let me go?" she asked,quite anxiously. "Aye, she thinks she would. She knows what a tidy womanmother is and how clean she keeps the cottage." "If I went I should see your mother as well as Dickon,"said Mary, thinking it over and liking the idea very much."She doesn't seem to be like the mothers in India." Her work in the garden and the excitement of the afternoonended by making her feel quiet and thoughtful. Martha stayedwith her until tea-time, but they sat in comfortablequiet and talked very little. But just before Marthawent downstairs for the tea-tray, Mary asked a question. "Martha," she said, "has the scullery-maid had thetoothache again today?" Martha certainly started slightly. "What makes thee ask that?" she said. "Because when I waited so long for you to come back Iopened the door and walked down the corridor to see if youwere coming. And I heard that far-off crying again,just as we heard it the other night. There isn'ta wind today, so you see it couldn't have been the wind." "Eh!" said Martha restlessly. "Tha' mustn't go walkin'about in corridors an' listenin'. Mr. Craven would bethat there angry there's no knowin' what he'd do." "I wasn't listening," said Mary. "I was just waitingfor you--and I heard it. That's three times." "My word! There's Mrs. Medlock's bell," said Martha,and she almost ran out of the room. "It's the strangest house any one ever lived in,"said Mary drowsily, as she dropped her head on the cushionedseat of the armchair near her. Fresh air, and digging,and skipping-rope had made her feel so comfortably tiredthat she fell asleep.