Martha, one of the manor's numerous maidservants, greets Mary when she awakens on her first morning at Misselthwaite. Mary tells Martha how much she hates the moor; Martha replies that she will come to love it, just as Martha does herself. The housemaid is quite casual in her speech, and talks to the girl as though the two were equals. This much upsets Mistress Mary, who is used to the extreme servility of the servants who took care of her in India. When Mary asks Martha to help her in getting dressed, Martha is completely shocked. It had never occurred to her that the child might not be capable of dressing herself. In her surprise, she lapses into the dialect (meaning a form of speech particular to the people of a region) of Yorkshire. This dialect is characteristic of the speech of nearly everyone on the moor (except for the residents of the manor house itself).

Martha goes on to say that she suspects Mary's circumstances were so very different in India because there are "such a lot o' blacks there." In fact, she had imagined that Mary herself was Black. Mary is outraged at this suggestion, for Black people "are not people"; in response, she insults Martha viciously and then bursts into tears. Martha, troubled by this tantrum, comforts her and agrees to help her dress.

Mary finds that the mourning black she was wearing upon her arrival at Misselthwaite has been replaced by a new set of white woolen clothes. For once, she is pleased by the change, as she "hates black things." As she helps Mary dress, Martha is again surprised by the child's behavior: she stands very still, as though she were a doll, and does nothing to help herself. When the maid asks why she insists on being dressed, Mary replies with a phrase she learned from her Indian servants: "It was the custom."

Martha begins to tell Mary about her family: her mother, father, and eleven brothers and sisters. She mentions that one of her younger brothers, Dickon, has an almost magical way with animals and keeps a wild pony as a pet. For the first time in her life, Mary finds herself interested in something other than herself: she is attracted by the idea of Dickon.

Mary refuses to eat the breakfast that is brought to her, which exasperates Martha, who has often seen her siblings go hungry. At Martha's suggestion (and in the hopes that she might see Dickon), Mary decides to explore the moor. Before she ventures out, however, Martha mentions that, somewhere on the grounds of Misselthwaite, there is a garden that has been shut up for ten years. It was once Mistress Craven's garden and, after her death, Master Craven locked its door and buried the key. Mary begins searching for the secret garden as soon as she leaves the manor. She first explores the kitchen gardens, and, over one of the garden walls, sees a robin redbreast, whose lovely appearance and cheerful song please Mary deeply. She feels certain that the tree on which he is perched is in the secret garden. In one of the kitchen gardens, Mary comes across a gruff old gardener named Ben Weatherstaff. When she mentions seeing the robin, the old man breaks into a beautiful soft whistle; Mary is terribly surprised, as the sound is so at odds with his surly appearance. The robin appears a few moments later, and lands near the old man's feet. Ben Weatherstaff tells Mary that the robin had been lonely after the rest of his brood flew away; longing for company, the robin befriended the gardener. Mary realizes that she too is lonely, and that this is one of the reasons for her contrariness. Ben Weatherstaff observes that Mary and he are alike, in that they are both unattractive and have terrible tempers; Mary is greatly discomfited, as no one has ever spoken to her with such bluntness.

The robin breaks into song, in an attempt to make friends with Mary; as she has no friends in the entire world, she is almost painfully delighted. Mary attempts to ask Ben Weatherstaff about the secret garden, but he refuses to answer and walks away without a word of goodbye.


The third chapter begins by introducing Martha Sowerby, Mary's new maidservant. Martha, however, hardly thinks of herself as a servant, as rapidly becomes clear: she expects Mary to dress and feed herself, and is not at all deferential. Mary becomes irritated in comparing Martha's liberal manner with that of her servants in India, whom she treated as less than human. The typical Yorkshire bluntness of both Martha and the gardener Ben Weatherstaff begin to alter Mary for the better in this chapter.

Both Mary and Martha here evince extreme racism, made the more disturbing by its casualness and by the novel's implicit endorsement of it: Martha remarks that Mary's awfulness may be because she is from India, where there are "a lot of blacks instead of respectable white people." Mary, in her fury at being assumed to be Black, shouts, "Natives are not people." A painfully obvious symbol of this racism can be found in the replacement of the black clothes Mary arrived from India in by white ones, as well as by her attendant statement that she "hates black things"; the reader is given to understand that Mary's life in England will be everywhere marked by whiteness rather than despised Blackness.

Misselthwaite Manor, however, has its own form of "native": all the servants speak Yorkshire dialect, which marks them as different from the inhabitants of the manor, and which Mary can barely understand. Martha's impoverished Yorkshire family is presented as being in almost uncanny harmony with the land: the hungry children are said to eat moor grass, as though they themselves were wild animals. The poor—particularly Dickon, Martha's wondrous brother—are depicted throughout the book as being more natural, unspoiled, and simple than the residents of the manor, and provides one of the novel's central oppositions. This, of course, is hardly unique to The Secret Garden. The poor, so frequently barred from education, are then hypocritically celebrated by the wealthy for their refreshing lack of "civilization."

It is now winter in England, which means nothing is growing upon the moor. The landscape mirrors Mary's state of well-being throughout the novel: at this point, she is still miserable and friendless, and so the moor itself remains bleak and barren. The secret garden, first mentioned in this chapter, is also implicitly aligned with Mary: it has been locked for ten years, and Mary is precisely ten years old. It remains locked here because Mary herself is still closed off from all human congress and friendship.

Mary is also aligned with the robin redbreast in this chapter: like her, he began life as an orphan; he lives in the secret garden, as she would like to; like her, he began to seek out friendship when he realized he was lonely. The friendliness of the little bird both helps Mary recognize that she is lonely and to assuage that loneliness. This is significant in that Mary is awakened by a wild creature, a distinctive part of the English countryside; the robin is explicitly described as being "not at all like birds in India." The landscape (of which the robin and Dickon Sowerby are a part) is here foreshadowed as the agent of Mary's eventual transformation.