"MIGHT I HAVE A BIT OF EARTH?" Mary ran so fast that she was rather out of breath when shereached her room. Her hair was ruffled on her foreheadand her cheeks were bright pink. Her dinner was waitingon the table, and Martha was waiting near it. "Tha's a bit late," she said. "Where has tha' been?" "I've seen Dickon!" said Mary. "I've seen Dickon!" "I knew he'd come," said Martha exultantly. "How does tha'like him?" "I think--I think he's beautiful!" said Mary in a determinedvoice. Martha looked rather taken aback but she looked pleased, too. "Well," she said, "he's th' best lad as ever was born,but us never thought he was handsome. His nose turns uptoo much." "I like it to turn up," said Mary. "An' his eyes is so round," said Martha, a trifle doubtful."Though they're a nice color." "I like them round,"said Mary. "And they are exactly the color of the skyover the moor." Martha beamed with satisfaction. "Mother says he made 'em that color with always lookin'up at th' birds an' th' clouds. But he has got a big mouth,hasn't he, now?" "I love his big mouth," said Mary obstinately. "I wishmine were just like it." Martha chuckled delightedly. "It'd look rare an' funny in thy bit of a face," she said."But I knowed it would be that way when tha' saw him.How did tha' like th' seeds an' th' garden tools?" "How did you know he brought them?" asked Mary. "Eh! I never thought of him not bringin' 'em. He'dbe sure to bring 'em if they was in Yorkshire.He's such a trusty lad." Mary was afraid that she might begin to askdifficult questions, but she did not. She was verymuch interested in the seeds and gardening tools,and there was only one moment when Mary was frightened.This was when she began to ask where the flowers were to beplanted. "Who did tha' ask about it?" she inquired. "I haven't asked anybody yet," said Mary, hesitating."Well, I wouldn't ask th' head gardener. He's too grand,Mr. Roach is." "I've never seen him," said Mary. "I've only seenundergardeners and Ben Weatherstaff." "If I was you, I'd ask Ben Weatherstaff," advised Martha."He's not half as bad as he looks, for all he's so crabbed.Mr. Craven lets him do what he likes because he was herewhen Mrs. Craven was alive, an' he used to make her laugh.She liked him. Perhaps he'd find you a corner somewhere out o'the way." "If it was out of the way and no one wanted it, no onecould mind my having it, could they?" Mary said anxiously. "There wouldn't be no reason," answered Martha."You wouldn't do no harm." Mary ate her dinner as quickly as she could and when sherose from the table she was going to run to her roomto put on her hat again, but Martha stopped her. "I've got somethin' to tell you," she said. "I thoughtI'd let you eat your dinner first. Mr. Craven came backthis mornin' and I think he wants to see you." Mary turned quite pale. "Oh!" she said. "Why! Why! He didn't want to see me when I came.I heard Pitcher say he didn't." "Well," explained Martha,"Mrs. Medlock says it's because o' mother. She was walkin'to Thwaite village an' she met him. She'd never spoketo him before, but Mrs. Craven had been to our cottagetwo or three times. He'd forgot, but mother hadn't an'she made bold to stop him. I don't know what she saidto him about you but she said somethin' as put him in th'mind to see you before he goes away again, tomorrow." "Oh!" cried Mary, "is he going away tomorrow? I am so glad!" "He's goin' for a long time. He mayn't come back tillautumn or winter. He's goin' to travel in foreign places.He's always doin' it." "Oh! I'm so glad--so glad!" said Mary thankfully. If he did not come back until winter, or even autumn,there would be time to watch the secret garden come alive.Even if he found out then and took it away from her shewould have had that much at least. "When do you think he will want to see--" She did not finish the sentence, because the door opened,and Mrs. Medlock walked in. She had on her best blackdress and cap, and her collar was fastened with alarge brooch with a picture of a man's face on it.It was a colored photograph of Mr. Medlock who had diedyears ago, and she always wore it when she was dressed up.She looked nervous and excited. "Your hair's rough," she said quickly. "Go andbrush it. Martha, help her to slip on her best dress.Mr. Craven sent me to bring her to him in his study." All the pink left Mary's cheeks. Her heart began tothump and she felt herself changing into a stiff, plain,silent child again. She did not even answer Mrs. Medlock,but turned and walked into her bedroom, followed by Martha.She said nothing while her dress was changed, and herhair brushed, and after she was quite tidy she followedMrs. Medlock down the corridors, in silence. What was therefor her to say? She was obliged to go and see Mr. Cravenand he would not like her, and she would not like him.She knew what he would think of her. She was taken to a part of the house she had not beeninto before. At last Mrs. Medlock knocked at a door,and when some one said, "Come in," they entered theroom together. A man was sitting in an armchair beforethe fire, and Mrs. Medlock spoke to him. "This is Miss Mary, sir," she said. "You can go and leave her here. I will ring for youwhen I want you to take her away," said Mr. Craven. When she went out and closed the door, Mary could onlystand waiting, a plain little thing, twisting her thinhands together. She could see that the man in thechair was not so much a hunchback as a man with high,rather crooked shoulders, and he had black hair streakedwith white. He turned his head over his high shouldersand spoke to her. "Come here!" he said. Mary went to him. He was not ugly. His face would have been handsome if ithad not been so miserable. He looked as if the sightof her worried and fretted him and as if he did not knowwhat in the world to do with her. "Are you well?" he asked. "Yes," answered Mary. "Do they take good care of you?" "Yes." He rubbed his forehead fretfully as he looked her over. "You are very thin," he said. "I am getting fatter," Mary answered in what she knewwas her stiffest way. What an unhappy face he had! His black eyes seemed as if theyscarcely saw her, as if they were seeing something else,and he could hardly keep his thoughts upon her. "I forgot you," he said. "How could I remember you? Iintended to send you a governess or a nurse, or someone of that sort, but I forgot." "Please," began Mary. "Please--" and then the lumpin her throat choked her. "What do you want to say?" he inquired. "I am--I am too big for a nurse," said Mary."And please--please don't make me have a governess yet." He rubbed his forehead again and stared at her. "That was what the Sowerby woman said," he mutteredabsentmindedly. Then Mary gathered a scrap of courage. "Is she--is she Martha's mother?" she stammered. "Yes, I think so," he replied. "She knows about children," said Mary. "She has twelve.She knows." He seemed to rouse himself. "What do you want to do?" "I want to play out of doors," Mary answered, hoping thather voice did not tremble. "I never liked it in India.It makes me hungry here, and I am getting fatter." He was watching her. "Mrs. Sowerby said it would do you good. Perhaps it will,"he said. "She thought you had better get stronger beforeyou had a governess." "It makes me feel strong when I play and the wind comesover the moor," argued Mary. "Where do you play?" he asked next. "Everywhere," gasped Mary. "Martha's mother sent mea skipping-rope. I skip and run--and I look about to seeif things are beginning to stick up out of the earth.I don't do any harm." "Don't look so frightened," he said in a worried voice."You could not do any harm, a child like you! You may dowhat you like." Mary put her hand up to her throat because she was afraidhe might see the excited lump which she felt jump into it.She came a step nearer to him. "May I?" she said tremulously. Her anxious little face seemed to worry him more than ever. "Don't look so frightened," he exclaimed. "Of course you may.I am your guardian, though I am a poor one for any child.I cannot give you time or attention. I am too ill,and wretched and distracted; but I wish you to be happyand comfortable. I don't know anything about children,but Mrs. Medlock is to see that you have all you need.I sent for you to-day because Mrs. Sowerby said Iought to see you. Her daughter had talked about you.She thought you needed fresh air and freedom and runningabout." "She knows all about children," Mary said again in spiteof herself. "She ought to," said Mr. Craven. "I thought her ratherbold to stop me on the moor, but she said--Mrs. Cravenhad been kind to her." It seemed hard for him to speakhis dead wife's name. "She is a respectable woman.Now I have seen you I think she said sensible things.Play out of doors as much as you like. It's a big placeand you may go where you like and amuse yourself as you like.Is there anything you want?" as if a sudden thought hadstruck him. "Do you want toys, books, dolls?" "Might I," quavered Mary, "might I have a bit of earth?" In her eagerness she did not realize how queer the wordswould sound and that they were not the ones she had meantto say. Mr. Craven looked quite startled. "Earth!" he repeated. "What do you mean?" "To plant seeds in--to make things grow--to see themcome alive," Mary faltered. He gazed at her a moment and then passed his hand quicklyover his eyes. "Do you--care about gardens so much," he said slowly. "I didn't know about them in India," said Mary. "I wasalways ill and tired and it was too hot. I sometimesmade littlebeds in the sand and stuck flowers in them.But here it is different." Mr. Craven got up and began to walk slowly across the room. "A bit of earth," he said to himself, and Mary thoughtthat somehow she must have reminded him of something.When he stopped and spoke to her his dark eyes looked almostsoft and kind. "You can have as much earth as you want," he said."You remind me of some one else who loved the earth andthings that grow. When you see a bit of earth you want,"with something like a smile, "take it, child, and make itcome alive." "May I take it from anywhere--if it's not wanted?" "Anywhere," he answered. "There! You must go now,I am tired." He touched the bell to call Mrs. Medlock."Good-by. I shall be away all summer." Mrs. Medlock came so quickly that Mary thought she musthave been waiting in the corridor. "Mrs. Medlock," Mr. Craven said to her, "now I haveseen the child I understand what Mrs. Sowerby meant.She must be less delicate before she begins lessons.Give her simple, healthy food. Let her run wild inthe garden. Don't look after her too much. She needsliberty and fresh air and romping about. Mrs. Sowerbyis to come and see her now and then and she may sometimesgo to the cottage." Mrs. Medlock looked pleased. She was relieved tohear that she need not "look after" Mary too much.She had felt her a tiresome charge and had indeed seenas little of her as she dared. In addition to thisshe was fond of Martha's mother. "Thank you, sir," she said. "Susan Sowerby and me went toschool together and she's as sensible and good-hearted a womanas you'd find in a day's walk. I never had any childrenmyself and she's had twelve, and there never was healthieror better ones. Miss Mary can get no harm from them.I'd always take Susan Sowerby's advice about children myself.She's what you might call healthy-minded--if you understand me." "I understand," Mr. Craven answered. "Take Miss Maryaway now and send Pitcher to me." When Mrs. Medlock left her at the end of her own corridorMary flew back to her room. She found Martha waiting there.Martha had, in fact, hurried back after she had removedthe dinner service. "I can have my garden!" cried Mary. "I may have itwhere I like! I am not going to have a governessfor a long time! Your mother is coming to see meand I may go to your cottage! He says a little girllike me could not do any harm and I may do what Ilike--anywhere!" "Eh!" said Martha delightedly, "that was nice of himwasn't it?" "Martha," said Mary solemnly, "he is really a nice man,only his face is so miserable and his forehead is alldrawn together." She ran as quickly as she could to the garden. She hadbeen away so much longer than she had thought she shouldand she knew Dickon would have to set out early on hisfive-mile walk. When she slipped through the door underthe ivy, she saw he was not working where she had left him.The gardening tools were laid together under a tree.She ran to them, looking all round the place, but therewas no Dickon to be seen. He had gone away and the secretgarden was empty--except for the robin who had just flownacross the wall and sat on a standard rose-bush watching her."He's gone," she said woefully. "Oh! was he--was he--washe only a wood fairy?" Something white fastened to the standard rose-bush caughther eye. It was a piece of paper, in fact, it was apiece of the letter she had printed for Martha to sendto Dickon. It was fastened on the bush with a long thorn,and in a minute she knew Dickon had left it there.There were some roughly printed letters on it and a sortof picture. At first she could not tell what it was.Then she saw it was meant for a nest with a bird sittingon it. Underneath were the printed letters and theysaid: "I will cum bak."