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In the week after her first entry beyond its walls, Mary comes to think of the secret garden as a "fairy-tale sort of place"—as a place that is magical and strange and all her own. Each day, she plays with her skipping-rope and digs and weeds in the garden, in an effort to cultivate the few plants she knows to be alive. Mary is becoming healthier, and less contrary, and more engaged in the world with each day that she passes at Misselthwaite. During this time, her acquaintance with Ben Weatherstaff develops into friendship, and Mary attempts to covertly ask him for advice on gardening. Ben Weatherstaff tells her that he once tended the garden of a woman who "loved [roses] like they was children or robins," and, though she died, he still cares for her roses once or twice a year. Mary asks him if roses die when they are left to themselves, and how one might determine if they are dead or alive. Ben replies that one must wait till spring to know for certain. She continues questioning him about his work with the abandoned roses until he becomes unaccountably angry with her and walks off once again. After this encounter, Mary follows one of the laurel-paths into the woods in search of rabbits. She hears an odd whistling sound and, following it, comes upon a boy playing a wooden pipe beneath one of the trees. The boy is surrounded by animals-a pheasant, a squirrel, two rabbits-and Mary knows him almost immediately as Dickon Sowerby, the famous animal-charmer. She is thrilled to see him, but, as she is not used to boys, initially feels rather shy in his company. Dickon tells Mary that he received Martha's letter, and gives her the gardening tools and seeds that she had asked him to buy. Mary is very taken with the ease of Dickon's Yorkshire speech, as well as with his ruddy looks and patchwork clothing; to her, there is "a clean fresh scent of heather and grass and leaves about him, as if he were made of them." Thinking of this, Mary is suddenly and completely at ease with him, and forgets her shyness. After a few moments, the robin redbreast joins the pair beneath the tree. The boy appears to speak to the bird in robin-language, asking if he is a friend of Mary's. Dickon explains to Mary how to tend the seeds he has brought her, and then asks to see the place where she intends to plant them, as he wishes to help. Mary is extremely anxious about sharing the secret of the garden with him. Dickon tells her that she needn't mistrust him, for he keeps such secrets all the time, to protect his wild things from the violence of other boys. Mary says that she has "stolen a garden," but fiercely proclaims that it is hers, and she will not surrender it. She does, however, want Dickon to see it, and so leads him there.
Dickon tells Mary that he had heard of the secret garden from Martha, but never imagined that he would step inside it. He begins to investigate which of the plants are alive, and remarks that the secret garden would make a marvelous nesting place for birds, as there are no people there to harm them. The two busily set to work, clearing away the dead wood and more of the weeds. Dickon is impressed at how much Mary, who knew nothing of gardening, has been able to accomplish on her own. Mary replies, simply, that she likes the smell of the earth. Mary asks Dickon if he will help her with the garden, and Dickon happily agrees. Noting how many of the plants are still alive, Dickon wonders aloud if perhaps someone else hasn't been in the garden in the ten years since Master Craven locked its door. Mary tells Dickon that she wishes to grow flowers that look like bells, in defiance of the nursery taunt that the clergyman's children shouted at her, "Mistress Mary, quite contrary, How does your garden grow? With silver bells, and cockle shells, And marigolds all in a row." Mary tells Dickon that she likes him, and asks, in Yorkshire dialect, if he likes her as well. He asserts that both he and the robin like her a great deal. Their work is interrupted when Mary is called back to the house for her supper. She frets that she will never see Dickon again. Mary worries that, like a sprite or a wood- fairy, he will simply vanish as suddenly as he appeared. She does, however, completely trust that he will keep the secret of the garden.
The idea of the garden as a fairy-tale setting is refined in these chapters: if the garden is a "kind of fairy place," it is not one that causes magical sleep, but rather magical wakefulness. Mary thinks to herself, "The few books she had read and liked had been fairy-story books, and she had read of secret gardens in some of the stories. Sometimes people went to sleep in them for a hundred years, which she thought must be rather stupid. She had no intention of going to sleep, and, in fact, she was becoming wider awake with every day which passed at Misselthwaite. While Mary is becoming rejuvenated by the garden, the garden is being rejuvenated by her presence. This process occurs because Mary and the garden are so closely aligned with one another. As Mary herself says, "Nobody wants [the secret garden], nobody cares for it, nobody ever goes into it... They're letting it die, all shut in by itself." Mary, too, has been utterly neglected, shut in by herself, for the past ten years. Both she and the secret garden are being awoken at the same time, and by many of the same agents. The natural landscape, through personification (the lending of human qualities to a nonhuman creature or inanimate thing), is here described as responding directly to Mary's work in the garden: "the bulbs...begin to cheer up under the dark earth...they begin to feel very much alive." If the natural world is subject to personification, persons are subject to what might be called "thingification": the characters most in harmony with Missel Moor often seem on the verge of becoming part of the landscape themselves. Ben Weatherstaff remarks that Mary seems "to spring out of the earth," and compares her silent approach to that of the robin. Mary, too, compares herself to the robin by noting that both he and she stumbled upon the garden by a sort of accident, and have made themselves at home there. Dickon strengthens this association in referring to the secret garden as Mary's "strange bird's nest" several times. By the same work of "thingification," Dickon's own eyes are described as looking like "pieces of moorland sky," and he smells of "heather and grass and leaves...as if he were made of them." Dickon's relationship to the moor is a uniquely close one, however: when the reader first encounters him, he is sitting beneath a tree charming animals with the music of his wooden pipe. This immediately conjures the image of panpipes, and serves to associate Dickon with the god Pan (the Greek god of Nature, Laughter, Passion, and Music). He therefore is presented as having an uncannily close relationship with the wilderness and with wild things. Carrying his "thingification" still further, he tells Mary, "Sometimes I think perhaps I'm a bird, or a fox, or a squirrel... and I don't know it." Mary compares Dickon's pipe playing with the way "natives charm snakes in India." Throughout the novel, Mary perceives Dickon as thrillingly strange and exotic: like the Indian natives, he speaks a different language (his Yorkshire dialect). Also like the Indians, he is visually marked as different from Mary - his difference is one of class, however, rather than of race. Mary comments several times upon Dickon's patched clothes and rough hair, as well as on the coarse simplicity of his food. This class difference is extremely provocative for Mary: she is instantly drawn to Dickon, and her revelation of the garden to him is full of implicit eroticism. It's as though she were displaying herself to him, on the one hand; on the other, it is underwritten by the extremely charged notion of "letting him inside." Throughout this scene, Mary is "panting with excitement," and she constantly touches Dickon, without knowing that she is doing so. An interesting footnote: Nancy Friday, the popular feminist psychologist, named her book of women's sexual fantasies My Secret Garden in homage to this scene.
Ace your assignments with our guide to The Secret Garden!