"LET THEM LAUGH" The secret garden was not the only one Dickon worked in.Round the cottage on the moor there was a piece of groundenclosed by a low wall of rough stones. Early in the morningand late in the fading twilight and on all the days Colinand Mary did not see him, Dickon worked there plantingor tending potatoes and cabbages, turnips and carrots andherbs for his mother. In the company of his "creatures"he did wonders there and was never tired of doing them,it seemed. While he dug or weeded he whistled or sangbits of Yorkshire moor songs or talked to Soot or Captainor the brothers and sisters he had taught to help him. "We'd never get on as comfortable as we do," Mrs. Sowerby said,"if it wasn't for Dickon's garden. Anything'll grow for him.His 'taters and cabbages is twice th' size of any oneelse's an' they've got a flavor with 'em as nobody's has." When she found a moment to spare she liked to go outand talk to him. After supper there was still a longclear twilight to work in and that was her quiet time.She could sit upon the low rough wall and look onand hear stories of the day. She loved this time.There were not only vegetables in this garden.Dickon had bought penny packages of flower seeds nowand then and sown bright sweet-scented things amonggooseberry bushes and even cabbages and he grew bordersof mignonette and pinks and pansies and things whoseseeds he could save year after year or whose roots wouldbloom each spring and spread in time into fine clumps.The low wall was one of the prettiest things in Yorkshirebecause he had tucked moorland foxglove and ferns androck-cress and hedgerow flowers into every crevice untilonly here and there glimpses of the stones were to be seen. "All a chap's got to do to make 'em thrive, mother,"he would say, "is to be friends with 'em for sure.They're just like th' `creatures.' If they're thirsty give'em drink and if they're hungry give 'em a bit o' food.They want to live same as we do. If they died I should feelas if I'd been a bad lad and somehow treated them heartless." It was in these twilight hours that Mrs. Sowerby heard of allthat happened at Misselthwaite Manor. At first she was onlytold that "Mester Colin" had taken a fancy to going out intothe grounds with Miss Mary and that it was doing him good.But it was not long before it was agreed between the twochildren that Dickon's mother might "come into the secret."Somehow it was not doubted that she was "safe for sure." So one beautiful still evening Dickon told the whole story,with all the thrilling details of the buried key and therobin and the gray haze which had seemed like deadnessand the secret Mistress Mary had planned never to reveal.The coming of Dickon and how it had been told to him,the doubt of Mester Colin and the final drama of hisintroduction to the hidden domain, combined with theincident of Ben Weatherstaff's angry face peering overthe wall and Mester Colin's sudden indignant strength,made Mrs. Sowerby's nice-looking face quite change colorseveral times. "My word!" she said. "It was a good thing that littlelass came to th' Manor. It's been th' makin' o' her an'th' savin, o' him. Standin' on his feet! An' us all thinkin'he was a poor half-witted lad with not a straight bone in him." She asked a great many questions and her blue eyes werefull of deep thinking. "What do they make of it at th' Manor--him being so well an'cheerful an' never complainin'?" she inquired. "They don'tknow what to make of it," answered Dickon. "Every dayas comes round his face looks different. It's fillin'out and doesn't look so sharp an' th' waxy color is goin'.But he has to do his bit o' complainin'," with a highlyentertained grin. "What for, i' Mercy's name?" asked Mrs. Sowerby. Dickon chuckled. "He does it to keep them from guessin' what's happened.If the doctor knew he'd found out he could stand onhis feet he'd likely write and tell Mester Craven.Mester Colin's savin' th' secret to tell himself.He's goin' to practise his Magic on his legs every daytill his father comes back an' then he's goin' to marchinto his room an' show him he's as straight as other lads.But him an' Miss Mary thinks it's best plan to do abit o' groanin' an' frettin' now an' then to throw folkoff th' scent." Mrs. Sowerby was laughing a low comfortable laugh longbefore he had finished his last sentence. "Eh!" she said, "that pair's enjoyin' their-selves I'll warrant.They'll get a good bit o' actin' out of it an' there's nothin'children likes as much as play actin'. Let's hear whatthey do, Dickon lad." Dickon stopped weeding and satup on his heels to tell her. His eyes were twinkling with fun. "Mester Colin is carried down to his chair every timehe goes out," he explained. "An' he flies out at John,th' footman, for not carryin' him careful enough. He makeshimself as helpless lookin' as he can an' never lifts his headuntil we're out o' sight o' th' house. An' he grunts an'frets a good bit when he's bein' settled into his chair.Him an' Miss Mary's both got to enjoyin' it an' when hegroans an' complains she'll say, `Poor Colin! Does it hurtyou so much? Are you so weak as that, poor Colin?'--but th'trouble is that sometimes they can scarce keep from burstin'out laughin'. When we get safe into the garden they laughtill they've no breath left to laugh with. An' they haveto stuff their faces into Mester Colin's cushions to keepthe gardeners from hearin', if any of, 'em's about." "Th' more they laugh th' better for 'em!" said Mrs. Sowerby,still laughing herself. "Good healthy child laughin'sbetter than pills any day o' th' year. That pair'llplump up for sure." "They are plumpin' up," said Dickon. "They're that hungrythey don't know how to get enough to eat without makin'talk. Mester Colin says if he keeps sendin' for more foodthey won't believe he's an invalid at all. Miss Mary saysshe'll let him eat her share, but he says that if shegoes hungry she'll get thin an' they mun both get fat at once." Mrs. Sowerby laughed so heartily at the revelation of thisdifficulty that she quite rocked backward and forwardin her blue cloak, and Dickon laughed with her. "I'll tell thee what, lad," Mrs. Sowerby said when shecould speak. "I've thought of a way to help 'em. When tha'goes to 'em in th' mornin's tha' shall take a pail o'good new milk an' I'll bake 'em a crusty cottage loaf orsome buns wi' currants in 'em, same as you children like.Nothin's so good as fresh milk an' bread. Then they couldtake off th' edge o' their hunger while they were in theirgarden an' th, fine food they get indoors 'ud polishoff th' corners." "Eh! mother!" said Dickon admiringly, "what a wonder tha'art! Tha' always sees a way out o' things. They wasquite in a pother yesterday. They didn't see how theywas to manage without orderin' up more food--they feltthat empty inside." "They're two young 'uns growin' fast, an' health's comin'back to both of 'em. Children like that feels likeyoung wolves an' food's flesh an' blood to 'em," saidMrs. Sowerby. Then she smiled Dickon's own curving smile."Eh! but they're enjoyin' theirselves for sure,"she said. She was quite right, the comfortable wonderful mothercreature--and she had never been more so than when she saidtheir "play actin'" would be their joy. Colin and Mary foundit one of their most thrilling sources of entertainment.The idea of protecting themselves from suspicion had beenunconsciously suggested to them first by the puzzlednurse and then by Dr. Craven himself. "Your appetite. Is improving very much, Master Colin,"the nurse had said one day. "You used to eat nothing,and so many things disagreed with you." "Nothing disagrees with me now" replied Colin, and then seeingthe nurse looking at him curiously he suddenly rememberedthat perhaps he ought not to appear too well just yet."At least things don't so often disagree with me.It's the fresh air." "Perhaps it is," said the nurse, still looking at him witha mystified expression. "But I must talk to Dr. Cravenabout it." "How she stared at you!" said Mary when she went away."As if she thought there must be something to find out." "I won't have her finding out things," said Colin."No one must begin to find out yet." When Dr. Craven camethat morning he seemed puzzled, also. He asked a numberof questions, to Colin's great annoyance. "You stay out in the garden a great deal," he suggested."Where do you go?" Colin put on his favorite air of dignified indifferenceto opinion. "I will not let any one know where I go," he answered."I go to a place I like. Every one has orders to keepout of the way. I won't be watched and stared at.You know that!" "You seem to be out all day but I do not think it hasdone you harm--I do not think so. The nurse saysthat you eat much more than you have ever done before." "Perhaps," said Colin, prompted by a sudden inspiration,"perhaps it is an unnatural appetite." "I do not think so, as your food seems to agree with you,"said Dr. Craven. "You are gaining flesh rapidly and yourcolor is better." "Perhaps--perhaps I am bloated and feverish," said Colin,assuming a discouraging air of gloom. "People who arenot going to live are often--different." Dr. Craven shookhis head. He was holding Colin's wrist and he pushed uphis sleeve and felt his arm. "You are not feverish," he said thoughtfully, "and suchflesh as you have gained is healthy. If you can keepthis up, my boy, we need not talk of dying. Your fatherwill be happy to hear of this remarkable improvement." "I won't have him told!" Colin broke forth fiercely."It will only disappoint him if I get worse again--and Imay get worse this very night. I might have a raging fever.I feel as if I might be beginning to have one now.I won't have letters written to my father--I won't--I won't!You are making me angry and you know that is bad for me.I feel hot already. I hate being written about and beingtalked over as much as I hate being stared at!" "Hush-h! my boy," Dr. Craven soothed him. "Nothing shallbe written without your permission. You are too sensitiveabout things. You must not undo the good which hasbeen done." He said no more about writing to Mr. Craven and when he sawthe nurse he privately warned her that such a possibilitymust not be mentioned to the patient. "The boy is extraordinarily better," he said."His advance seems almost abnormal. But of course heis doing now of his own free will what we could not makehim do before. Still, he excites himself very easilyand nothing must be said to irritate him." Mary andColin were much alarmed and talked together anxiously.From this time dated their plan of "play actin'." "I may be obliged to have a tantrum," said Colin regretfully."I don't want to have one and I'm not miserable enoughnow to work myself into a big one. Perhaps I couldn't haveone at all. That lump doesn't come in my throat now and Ikeep thinking of nice things instead of horrible ones.But if they talk about writing to my father I shall haveto do something." He made up his mind to eat less, but unfortunately itwas not possible to carry out this brilliant idea when hewakened each morning with an amazing appetite and thetable near his sofa was set with a breakfast of home-madebread and fresh butter, snow-white eggs, raspberry jamand clotted cream. Mary always breakfasted with himand when they found themselves at the table--particularlyif there were delicate slices of sizzling ham sendingforth tempting odors from under a hot silver cover--theywould look into each other's eyes in desperation. "I think we shall have to eat it all this morning,Mary," Colin always ended by saying. "We can sendaway some of the lunch and a great deal of the dinner." But they never found they could send away anythingand the highly polished condition of the empty platesreturned to the pantry awakened much comment. "I do wish," Colin would say also, "I do wish the slicesof ham were thicker, and one muffin each is not enoughfor any one." "It's enough for a person who is going to die," answered Marywhen first she heard this, "but it's not enough for aperson who is going to live. I sometimes feel as if Icould eat three when those nice fresh heather and gorsesmells from the moor come pouring in at the open window." The morning that Dickon--after they had been enjoyingthemselves in the garden for about two hours--wentbehind a big rosebush and brought forth two tin pailsand revealed that one was full of rich new milk with creamon the top of it, and that the other held cottage-madecurrant buns folded in a clean blue and white napkin,buns so carefully tucked in that they were still hot,there was a riot of surprised joyfulness. What a wonderfulthing for Mrs. Sowerby to think of! What a kind,clever woman she must be! How good the buns were! Andwhat delicious fresh milk! "Magic is in her just as it is in Dickon," said Colin."It makes her think of ways to do things--nice things.She is a Magic person. Tell her we are grateful,Dickon--extremely grateful." He was given to using rathergrown-up phrases at times. He enjoyed them. He liked thisso much that he improved upon it. "Tell her she has been most bounteous and our gratitudeis extreme." And then forgetting his grandeur he fell to and stuffedhimself with buns and drank milk out of the pail in copiousdraughts in the manner of any hungry little boy who hadbeen taking unusual exercise and breathing in moorlandair and whose breakfast was more than two hours behind him. This was the beginning of many agreeable incidents of thesame kind. They actually awoke to the fact that as Mrs. Sowerbyhad fourteen people to provide food for she might not haveenough to satisfy two extra appetites every day. So theyasked her to let them send some of their shillings to buy things. Dickon made the stimulating discovery that in the woodin the park outside the garden where Mary had firstfound him piping to the wild creatures there was a deeplittle hollow where you could build a sort of tinyoven with stones and roast potatoes and eggs in it.Roasted eggs were a previously unknown luxury and very hotpotatoes with salt and fresh butter in them were fit fora woodland king --besides being deliciously satisfying.You could buy both potatoes and eggs and eat as manyas you liked without feeling as if you were taking foodout of the mouths of fourteen people. Every beautiful morning the Magic was worked by the mysticcircle under the plum-tree which provided a canopyof thickening green leaves after its brief blossom-timewas ended. After the ceremony Colin always took his walkingexercise and throughout the day he exercised his newlyfound power at intervals. Each day he grew strongerand could walk more steadily and cover more ground.And each day his belief in the Magic grew stronger--aswell it might. He tried one experiment after anotheras he felt himself gaining strength and it was Dickonwho showed him the best things of all. "Yesterday," he said one morning after an absence,"I went to Thwaite for mother an' near th' Blue Cow Inn Iseed Bob Haworth. He's the strongest chap on th' moor.He's the champion wrestler an' he can jump higher than anyother chap an' throw th' hammer farther. He's gone all th'way to Scotland for th' sports some years. He's knowed meever since I was a little 'un an' he's a friendly sort an'I axed him some questions. Th' gentry calls him a athleteand I thought o' thee, Mester Colin, and I says, `How did tha'make tha' muscles stick out that way, Bob? Did tha'do anythin' extra to make thysel' so strong?' An' he says'Well, yes, lad, I did. A strong man in a show that cameto Thwaite once showed me how to exercise my arms an'legs an' every muscle in my body. An' I says, `Could adelicate chap make himself stronger with 'em, Bob?' an'he laughed an' says, 'Art tha' th' delicate chap?' an'I says, `No, but I knows a young gentleman that's gettin'well of a long illness an' I wish I knowed some o'them tricks to tell him about.' I didn't say no names an,he didn't ask none. He's friendly same as I said an'he stood up an' showed me good-natured like, an' I imitatedwhat he did till I knowed it by heart." Colin had been listening excitedly. "Can you show me?" he cried. "Will you?" "Aye, to be sure," Dickon answered, getting up."But he says tha' mun do 'em gentle at first an'be careful not to tire thysel'. Rest in between times an'take deep breaths an' don't overdo." "I'll be careful," said Colin. "Show me! Show me! Dickon,you are the most Magic boy in the world!" Dickon stood up on the grass and slowly went through acarefully practical but simple series of muscle exercises.Colin watched them with widening eyes. He could do a fewwhile he was sitting down. Presently he did a few gentlywhile he stood upon his already steadied feet. Mary beganto do them also. Soot, who was watching the performance,became much disturbed and left his branch and hoppedabout restlessly because he could not do them too. From that time the exercises were part of the day's dutiesas much as the Magic was. It became possible for bothColin and Mary to do more of them each time they tried,and such appetites were the results that but for the basketDickon put down behind the bush each morning when hearrived they would have been lost. But the little ovenin the hollow and Mrs. Sowerby's bounties were so satisfyingthat Mrs. Medlock and the nurse and Dr. Craven becamemystified again. You can trifle with your breakfast andseem to disdain your dinner if you are full to the brimwith roasted eggs and potatoes and richly frothed newmilk and oatcakes and buns and heather honey and clotted cream. "They are eating next to nothing," said the nurse."They'll die of starvation if they can't be persuadedto take some nourishment. And yet see how they look." "Look!" exclaimed Mrs. Medlock indignantly. "Eh! I'm moitheredto death with them. They're a pair of young Satans.Bursting their jackets one day and the next turning uptheir noses at the best meals Cook can tempt them with.Not a mouthful of that lovely young fowl and bread saucedid they set a fork into yesterday--and the poor womanfair invented a pudding for them--and back it's sent.She almost cried. She's afraid she'll be blamed if theystarve themselves into their graves." Dr. Craven came and looked at Colin long and carefully,He wore an extremely worried expression when the nursetalked with him and showed him the almost untouchedtray of breakfast she had saved for him to look at--butit was even more worried when he sat down by Colin'ssofa and examined him. He had been called to London onbusiness and had not seen the boy for nearly two weeks.When young things begin to gain health they gain it rapidly.The waxen tinge had left, Colins skin and a warm rose showedthrough it; his beautiful eyes were clear and the hollowsunder them and in his cheeks and temples had filled out.His once dark, heavy locks had begun to look as if theysprang healthily from his forehead and were soft and warmwith life. His lips were fuller and of a normal color.In fact as an imitation of a boy who was a confirmed invalidhe was a disgraceful sight. Dr. Craven held his chin in hishand and thought him over. "I am sorry to hear that you do not eat any- thing,"he said. "That will not do. You will lose all you havegained --and you have gained amazingly. You ate so wella short time ago." "I told you it was an unnatural appetite," answered Colin. Mary was sitting on her stool nearby and she suddenlymade a very queer sound which she tried so violentlyto repress that she ended by almost choking. "What is the matter?" said Dr. Craven, turning to lookat her. Mary became quite severe in her manner. "It was something between a sneeze and a cough," she repliedwith reproachful dignity, "and it got into my throat." "But," she said afterward to Colin, "I couldn't stop myself.It just burst out because all at once I couldn't helpremembering that last big potato you ate and the wayyour mouth stretched when you bit through that thicklovely crust with jam and clotted cream on it." "Is there any way in which those children can getfood secretly?" Dr. Craven inquired of Mrs. Medlock. "There's no way unless they dig it out of the earth or pickit off the trees," Mrs. Medlock answered. "They stayout in the grounds all day and see no one but each other.And if they want anything different to eat from what'ssent up to them they need only ask for it." "Well," said Dr. Craven, "so long as going withoutfood agrees with them we need not disturb ourselves.The boy is a new creature." "So is the girl," said Mrs. Medlock. "She's begun to bedownright pretty since she's filled out and lost her uglylittle sour look. Her hair's grown thick and healthylooking and she's got a bright color. The glummest,ill-natured little thing she used to be and now her and MasterColin laugh together like a pair of crazy young ones.Perhaps they're growing fat on that." "Perhaps they are," said Dr. Craven. "Let them laugh."