Chapter XVI

When Mary goes back to the manor for lunch, Martha tells her that Colin is anxiously awaiting her visit. Mary replies that she cannot possibly see him at the moment, as Dickon is waiting for her; with that, she rushes back to the garden. Martha warns her that Colin is going to be thrown into a terrible humor if she refuses him. Martha is sitting in Mary's room upon her return. Mary is greatly irritated to hear that Colin has nearly thrown a tantrum in waiting for her. Neither of the children is accustomed to considering the needs of anyone but themselves, and Mary does not see how her own selfishness, in wanting Dickon's company as Colin wants hers, is like Colin's. Mary goes to see Colin in his room, and finds him lying very still in bed. His stillness is ominous, as he had begun to sit up on the divan during their week indoors; the divan is far better than the bed for his weakened back. Colin threatens to forbid Dickon to come to Misselthwaite if Mary elects to spend time with him rather than with Colin. Mary is furious, and tells Colin that she will never speak to him again if he interferes with her friendship with Dickon. The two have a heated argument about Dickon: Colin calls him common (meaning poor and uncultivated), to which Mary replies that he is an angel, "a thousand times better than a common rajah." This is the first time anyone has argued with Colin in all his life. When Colin reminds Mary that he is going to die, she replies vehemently that he isn't dying at all-he is merely feeling sorry for himself and pleading for sympathy and attention. She storms out of his room and discovers Colin's nurse, who, having found their argument terribly amusing, is laughing to herself in the hallway. Mary finds a number of packages, sent to her by Master Craven, waiting for her in her room. There are a number of beautiful picture books, and a few games, and a golden pen and inkstand. Mary is delighted that he has remembered her at all. As she is contemplating showing her lovely gifts to Colin, she remembers that he once told her that his hysterical tantrums come upon him whenever he imagines that he can feel the beginnings of a lump on his back. His nervousness especially happens when he is cross or tired, and Mary realizes that he may have been thinking of his hump, and of his imminent death, during all the hours he was awaiting her return to Misselthwaite. Mary decides that she may relent, and see Colin in the morning.

Chapter XVII

That night, Mary is awakened by the sound of screams and cries from Colin's distant room. Initially, Mary is quite frightened by his cries, but grows more and more furious with Colin as his tantrum continues. Colin's nurse rushes to Mary's room and begs her to come and scold him, or at least distract him, before he does himself harm. Mary is much amused that all of the adults in the manor are turning to her for help-if only because they suspect that she is even more difficult than Colin himself. Mary bursts into Colin's chamber and, in a childish rage, tells him that she hates him, and hopes that he will indeed scream himself to death. Colin is so shocked that he stops screaming and simply gapes at her. He tells her that he is certain that his back is beginning to grow a hump, and that he soon will die. Mary scoffs at this idea, and demands to see Colin's back. He fearfully shows it to her. Mary, finding nothing whatsoever the matter, tells Colin that his back is perfectly straight, and she will laugh at him if he says otherwise. This ultimatum has a transformative effect on Colin, who has always been told how frail and doomed he is; Mary is the first to suggest that his illness is, perhaps, largely the work of his imagination. Colin takes Mary's hand and says that he will go out into the fresh air if she and Dickon agree to accompany him. Mary does agree, and lulls him to sleep with another story of the secret garden.


Colin and Mary are presented as being a perfect match for one another. This is true insofar as they are both appallingly difficult, with no concern for the wishes of others. Mary, in the words of the nurse, is "as spoiled as [Colin] himself"; her experience of being pampered is why she, and not the adults of the manor, is summoned to control him. It is important to note, however, that the Mary of this chapter is very different from the Mary whom the reader met at the beginning of the novel. She is capable, upon reflection, of feeling sympathy for Colin - she is even able to change her mind about whether or not she will continue to visit him. Such sympathy and consideration would have been unthinkable for "Mistress Mary, Quite Contrary." Mary is also good for Colin because she is bold enough (and furious enough) to contradict him when he says that he is going to become a hunchback and die an early death. It is essential he have his negative thoughts contradicted, so that positive ones may be put in their place; this opposition is one of the central tenets of both New Thought and Christian Science. Underlying this idea is the belief that nothing truly ails Colin's body - his disease is entirely a product of his mind. Mary's impassioned repetition of the word "hysterics" indicates that Hodgson Burnett's preoccupation with psychosomatic illness may have another, unacknowledged, source. In 1896, the psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud and the neurologist Joseph Breuer published the Studies on Hysteria; the book was soon translated into a number of languages and gained in popularity all over the world. For Freud and Breuer, hysteria referred to a psychological disorder in which an idea or fantasy that had been repressed (made unconscious) by the mind found alternative expression in the body. While it might appear that the hysteric had an organic illness (that is, a disease of the body), Freud and Breuer maintained that its real source was in the hysteric's unconscious. For Freud, the hysteric's repressed fantasy was always sexual in nature; furthermore, he contended that the overwhelming majority of hysterics were women. Mary's calling Colin a "hysteric" therefore feminizes him - he is weak, and frightened, and bedridden (all things a boy, presumably, should never be). This gives the reader new insight into Mary's statement that Colin is "not at all like Dickon." Dickon is extremely strong, masculine, and vigorous - he is of the moor, while Colin is aligned with the feminine (because racially despised) Indian Rajah. It is almost as though Colin and Dickon are in an implicit battle for Mary's romantic affections—one which Colin is certain to lose. For Mary, Dickon is "an angel"—he is divine.