BEN WEATHERSTAFF One of the strange things about living in the world isthat it is only now and then one is quite sure one isgoing to live forever and ever and ever. One knows itsometimes when one gets up at the tender solemn dawn-timeand goes out and stands alone and throws one's head farback and looks up and up and watches the pale sky slowlychanging and flushing and marvelous unknown things happeninguntil the East almost makes one cry out and one's heartstands still at the strange unchanging majesty of therising of the sun--which has been happening every morningfor thousands and thousands and thousands of years.One knows it then for a moment or so. And one knows itsometimes when one stands by oneself in a wood at sunsetand the mysterious deep gold stillness slanting through andunder the branches seems to be saying slowly again and againsomething one cannot quite hear, however much one tries.Then sometimes the immense quiet of the dark blue at nightwith millions of stars waiting and watching makes one sure;and sometimes a sound of far-off music makes it true;and sometimes a look in some one's eyes. And it was like that with Colin when he first saw andheard and felt the Springtime inside the four high wallsof a hidden garden. That afternoon the whole worldseemed to devote itself to being perfect and radiantlybeautiful and kind to one boy. Perhaps out of pureheavenly goodness the spring came and crowned everythingit possibly could into that one place. More than onceDickon paused in what he was doing and stood still witha sort of growing wonder in his eyes, shaking his head softly. "Eh! it is graidely," he said. "I'm twelve goin'on thirteen an' there's a lot o' afternoons in thirteen years,but seems to me like I never seed one as graidely as this'ere." "Aye, it is a graidely one," said Mary, and she sighedfor mere joy. "I'll warrant it's the graidelest oneas ever was in this world." "Does tha' think," said Colin with dreamy carefulness,"as happen it was made loike this 'ere all o' purpose for me?" "My word!" cried Mary admiringly, "that there is a bit o'good Yorkshire. Tha'rt shapin' first-rate--that tha' art." And delight reigned. They drew the chair under the plum-tree,which was snow-white with blossoms and musical with bees.It was like a king's canopy, a fairy king's. There wereflowering cherry-trees near and apple-trees whose budswere pink and white, and here and there one had burstopen wide. Between the blossoming branches of the canopybits of blue sky looked down like wonderful eyes. Mary and Dickon worked a litle here and there and Colinwatched them. They brought him things to look at--budswhich were opening, buds which were tight closed,bits of twig whose leaves were just showing green,the feather of a woodpecker which had dropped onthe grass, the empty shell of some bird early hatched.Dickon pushed the chair slowly round and round the garden,stopping every other moment to let him look at wondersspringing out of the earth or trailing down from trees.It was like being taken in state round the country of amagic king and queen and shown all the mysterious richesit contained. "I wonder if we shall see the robin?" said Colin. "Tha'll see him often enow after a bit," answered Dickon."When th' eggs hatches out th' little chap he'll be kep'so busy it'll make his head swim. Tha'll see him flyin'backward an' for'ard carryin' worms nigh as big as himsel'an' that much noise goin' on in th' nest when he getsthere as fair flusters him so as he scarce knows which bigmouth to drop th' first piece in. An' gapin' beaks an'squawks on every side. Mother says as when she sees th'work a robin has to keep them gapin' beaks filled,she feels like she was a lady with nothin' to do.She says she's seen th' little chaps when it seemed like th'sweat must be droppin' off 'em, though folk can't see it." This made them giggle so delightedly that they were obligedto cover their mouths with their hands, remembering thatthey must not be heard. Colin had been instructed as tothe law of whispers and low voices several days before.He liked the mysteriousness of it and did his best,but in the midst of excited enjoyment it is ratherdifficult never to laugh above a whisper. Every moment of the afternoon was full of new thingsand every hour the sunshine grew more golden. The wheeledchair had been drawn back under the canopy and Dickonhad sat down on the grass and had just drawn out his pipewhen Colin saw something he had not had time to notice before. "That's a very old tree over there, isn't it?" he said.Dickon looked across the grass at the tree and Mary lookedand there was a brief moment of stillness. "Yes," answered Dickon, after it, and his low voicehad a very gentle sound. Mary gazed at the tree and thought. "The branches are quite gray and there's not a singleleaf anywhere," Colin went on. "It's quite dead,isn't it?" "Aye," admitted Dickon. "But them roses as has climbedall over it will near hide every bit o' th' dead woodwhen they're full o' leaves an' flowers. It won't lookdead then. It'll be th' prettiest of all." Mary still gazed at the tree and thought. "It looks as if a big branch had been broken off,"said Colin. "I wonder how it was done." "It's been done many a year," answered Dickon. "Eh!" witha sudden relieved start and laying his hand on Colin."Look at that robin! There he is! He's been foragin'for his mate." Colin was almost too late but he just caught sight of him,the flash of red-breasted bird with something in his beak.He darted through the greenness and into the close-growncorner and was out of sight. Colin leaned back on hiscushion again, laughing a little. "He's taking her teato her. Perhaps it's five o'clock. I think I'd like sometea myself." And so they were safe. "It was Magic which sent the robin," said Mary secretlyto Dickon afterward. "I know it was Magic." For both sheand Dickon had been afraid Colin might ask somethingabout the tree whose branch had broken off ten yearsago and they had talked it over together and Dickonhad stood and rubbed his head in a troubled way. "We mun look as if it wasn't no different from th'other trees," he had said. "We couldn't never tell himhow it broke, poor lad. If he says anything about it wemun--we mun try to look cheerful." "Aye, that we mun," had answered Mary. But she had not felt as if she looked cheerful when she gazedat the tree. She wondered and wondered in those few momentsif there was any reality in that other thing Dickon had said.He had gone on rubbing his rust-red hair in a puzzled way,but a nice comforted look had begun to grow in his blue eyes. "Mrs. Craven was a very lovely young lady," he hadgone on rather hesitatingly. "An' mother she thinksmaybe she's about Misselthwaite many a time lookin'after Mester Colin, same as all mothers do when they'retook out o' th' world. They have to come back,tha' sees. Happen she's been in the garden an'happen it was her set us to work, an' told us to bring him here." Mary had thought he meant something about Magic.She was a great believer in Magic. Secretly she quitebelieved that Dickon worked Magic, of course good Magic,on everything near him and that was why people liked himso much and wild creatures knew he was their friend.She wondered, indeed, if it were not possible that hisgift had brought the robin just at the right momentwhen Colin asked that dangerous question. She feltthat his Magic was working all the afternoon and makingColin look like an entirely different boy. It did notseem possible that he could be the crazy creature who hadscreamed and beaten and bitten his pillow. Even his ivorywhiteness seemed to change. The faint glow of colorwhich had shown on his face and neck and hands when hefirst got inside the garden really never quite died away.He looked as if he were made of flesh instead of ivoryor wax. They saw the robin carry food to his mate two or three times,and it was so suggestive of afternoon tea that Colinfelt they must have some. "Go and make one of the men servants bring some in abasket to the rhododendron walk," he said. "And thenyou and Dickon can bring it here." It was an agreeable idea, easily carried out, and whenthe white cloth was spread upon the grass, with hot teaand buttered toast and crumpets, a delightfully hungrymeal was eaten, and several birds on domestic errandspaused to inquire what was going on and were led intoinvestigating crumbs with great activity. Nut and Shellwhisked up trees with pieces of cake and Soot took theentire half of a buttered crumpet into a corner and peckedat and examined and turned it over and made hoarse remarksabout it until he decided to swallow it all joyfully in one gulp. The afternoon was dragging towards its mellow hour.The sun was deepening the gold of its lances, the beeswere going home and the birds were flying past less often.Dickon and Mary were sitting on the grass, the tea-basketwas repacked ready to be taken back to the house, and Colinwas lying against his cushions with his heavy lockspushed back from his forehead and his face looking quitea natural color. "I don't want this afternoon to go," he said; "but I shallcome back tomorrow, and the day after, and the day after,and the day after." "You'll get plenty of fresh air, won't you?" said Mary."I'm going to get nothing else," he answered."I've seen the spring now and I'm going to see the summer.I'm going to see everything grow here. I'm going to growhere myself." "That tha' will," said Dickon. "Us'll have thee walkin'about here an' diggin' same as other folk afore long." Colin flushed tremendously. "Walk!" he said. "Dig! Shall I?" Dickon's glance at him was delicately cautious.Neither he nor Mary had ever asked if anything wasthe matter with his legs. "For sure tha' will," he said stoutly. "Tha--tha's gotlegs o' thine own, same as other folks!" Mary was rather frightened until she heard Colin's answer. "Nothing really ails them," he said, "but they are so thinand weak. They shake so that I'm afraid to try to standon them." Both Mary and Dickon drew a relieved breath. "When tha' stops bein' afraid tha'lt stand on 'em,"Dickon said with renewed cheer. "An' tha'lt stop bein'afraid in a bit." "I shall?" said Colin, and he lay still as if he werewondering about things. They were really very quiet for a little while.The sun was dropping lower. It was that hour wheneverything stills itself, and they really had had a busyand exciting afternoon. Colin looked as if he wereresting luxuriously. Even the creatures had ceased movingabout and had drawn together and were resting near them.Soot had perched on a low branch and drawn up one legand dropped the gray film drowsily over his eyes.Mary privately thought he looked as if he might snorein a minute. In the midst of this stillness it was rather startlingwhen Colin half lifted his head and exclaimed in a loudsuddenly alarmed whisper: "Who is that man?" Dickon and Mary scrambled to their feet. "Man!" they both cried in low quick voices. Colin pointed to the high wall. "Look!" he whispered excitedly."Just look!" Mary and Dickon wheeled about and looked. There was BenWeatherstaff's indignant face glaring at them over the wallfrom the top of a ladder! He actually shook his fist at Mary. "If I wasn't a bachelder, an' tha' was a wench o'mine," he cried, "I'd give thee a hidin'!" He mounted another step threateningly as if it were hisenergetic intention to jump down and deal with her;but as she came toward him he evidently thought betterof it and stood on the top step of his ladder shakinghis fist down at her. "I never thowt much o' thee!" he harangued. "I couldna'abide thee th' first time I set eyes on thee. A scrawnybuttermilk-faced young besom, allus askin' questions an'pokin' tha' nose where it wasna, wanted. I never knowedhow tha' got so thick wi' me. If it hadna' been for th'robin-- Drat him--" "Ben Weatherstaff," called out Mary, finding her breath.She stood below him and called up to him with a sortof gasp. "Ben Weatherstaff, it was the robin who showed methe way!" Then it did seem as if Ben really would scramble downon her side of the wall, he was so outraged. "Tha' young bad 'un!" he called down at her. "Layin' tha'badness on a robin--not but what he's impidint enowfor anythin'. Him showin' thee th' way! Him! Eh! tha'young nowt"--she could see his next words burst outbecause he was overpowered by curiosity-- "however i'this world did tha' get in?" "It was the robin who showed me the way," she protestedobstinately. "He didn't know he was doing it but he did.And I can't tell you from here while you're shakingyour fist at me." He stopped shaking his fist very suddenly at that verymoment and his jaw actually dropped as he stared over herhead at something he saw coming over the grass toward him. At the first sound of his torrent of words Colin hadbeen so surprised that he had only sat up and listenedas if he were spellbound. But in the midst of it hehad recovered himself and beckoned imperiously to Dickon. "Wheel me over there!" he commanded. "Wheel me quiteclose and stop right in front of him!" And this, if you please, this is what Ben Weatherstaff beheldand which made his jaw drop. A wheeled chair with luxuriouscushions and robes which came toward him looking ratherlike some sort of State Coach because a young Rajah leanedback in it with royal command in his great black-rimmedeyes and a thin white hand extended haughtily toward him.And it stopped right under Ben Weatherstaff's nose.It was really no wonder his mouth dropped open. "Do you know who I am?" demanded the Rajah. How Ben Weatherstaff stared! His red old eyes fixedthemselves on what was before him as if he were seeinga ghost. He gazed and gazed and gulped a lump down histhroat and did not say a word. "Do you know who I am?"demanded Colin still more imperiously. "Answer!" Ben Weatherstaff put his gnarled hand up and passed itover his eyes and over his forehead and then he didanswer in a queer shaky voice. "Who tha' art?" he said. "Aye, that I do--wi' tha'mother's eyes starin' at me out o' tha' face. Lord knowshow tha' come here. But tha'rt th' poor cripple." Colin forgot that he had ever had a back. His faceflushed scarlet and he sat bolt upright. "I'm not a cripple!" he cried out furiously. "I'm not!" "He's not!" cried Mary, almost shouting up the wallin her fierce indignation. "He's not got a lump as bigas a pin! I looked and there was none there--not one!" Ben Weatherstaff passed his hand over his foreheadagain and gazed as if he could never gaze enough.His hand shook and his mouth shook and his voice shook.He was an ignorant old man and a tactless old man and hecould only remember the things he had heard. "Tha'--tha' hasn't got a crooked back?" he said hoarsely. "No!" shouted Colin. "Tha'--tha' hasn't got crooked legs?" quavered Ben morehoarsely yet. It was too much. The strength which Colinusually threw into his tantrums rushed through him nowin a new way. Never yet had he been accused of crookedlegs--even in whispers--and the perfectly simple beliefin their existence which was revealed by Ben Weatherstaff'svoice was more than Rajah flesh and blood could endure.His anger and insulted pride made him forget everythingbut this one moment and filled him with a power he hadnever known before, an almost unnatural strength. "Come here!" he shouted to Dickon, and he actuallybegan to tear the coverings off his lower limbs anddisentangle himself. "Come here! Come here! This minute!" Dickon was by his side in a second. Mary caught herbreath in a short gasp and felt herself turn pale. "He can do it! He can do it! He can do it! He can!"she gabbled over to herself under her breath as fastas ever she could. There was a brief fierce scramble, the rugs were tossedon the ground, Dickon held Colin's arm, the thinlegs were out, the thin feet were on the grass.Colin was standing upright--upright--as straight as anarrow and looking strangely tall--his head thrown backand his strange eyes flashing lightning. "Look at me!"he flung up at Ben Weatherstaff. "Just look at me--you!Just look at me!" "He's as straight as I am!" cried Dickon. "He's asstraight as any lad i' Yorkshire!" What Ben Weatherstaff did Mary thought queer beyond measure.He choked and gulped and suddenly tears ran down hisweather-wrinkled cheeks as he struck his old hands together. "Eh!" he burst forth, "th' lies folk tells! Tha'rtas thin as a lath an' as white as a wraith, but there'snot a knob on thee. Tha'lt make a mon yet. God bless thee!" Dickon held Colin's arm strongly but the boy had not begunto falter. He stood straighter and straighter and lookedBen Weatherstaff in the face. "I'm your master," he said, "when my father is away.And you are to obey me. This is my garden. Don't dareto say a word about it! You get down from that ladderand go out to the Long Walk and Miss Mary will meet youand bring you here. I want to talk to you. We did notwant you, but now you will have to be in the secret.Be quick!" Ben Weatherstaff's crabbed old face was still wet withthat one queer rush of tears. It seemed as if he couldnot take his eyes from thin straight Colin standingon his feet with his head thrown back. "Eh! lad," he almost whispered. "Eh! my lad!" And thenremembering himself he suddenly touched his hat gardenerfashion and said, "Yes, sir! Yes, sir!" and obedientlydisappeared as he descended the ladder.