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Back at the manor house, Mary tells Martha that she has met Dickon. Martha is much amused when Mary exclaims that she finds him beautiful. Mary discovers that her uncle has returned from his trip abroad. Susan Sowerby, Dickon and Martha's mother, had confronted him in Thwaite village upon his return, and reproached him for neglecting Mary. Master Craven therefore wants to see Mary immediately, as he is leaving Misselthwaite again the following day. Mary is delighted at his imminent departure, but dreads meeting him: she is certain they will despise each other.
Mrs. Medlock leads Mary to Master Craven's sitting room, where they find him sitting before a fire. Mary then sees that he is not precisely a hunchback, though his shoulders are crooked-in fact, he would be handsome if not for the terrible misery in his face. He admits that he simply forgot to attend to Mary, and asks her if she would like a governess or nurse to keep her company. Mary fervently declares that she would much rather play on the moor, and grow strong before she begins her education. He agrees, and asks if there is anything at all she wants. Mary replies that she wants nothing more than "a bit of earth" for her gardening. Mr. Craven is quite moved by this request, as it reminds him of his late wife's love of gardens, and tells her that she may have any piece of land she wants, from anywhere on the manor grounds.
Mary rushes back to the nursery and tells Martha that her uncle has given her permission to keep a bit of earth and to visit with Martha's family. She then hurries back to the secret garden in search of Dickon, but finds that he has left for home. There is a note affixed to one of the rose bushes, on which Dickon has drawn a picture of a bird on its nest and a promise to return.
This chapter is largely devoted to the character of Archibald Craven, who appears for the first time here. The malicious effects of gossip (a theme that will gain greater importance with the introduction of Master Colin) can be seen in the fact that Archibald is not a "hunchback" at all - that description of him was merely cruel distortion. His most important quality is his extreme misery, for he still mourns the death of his wife. Archibald's sadness has a mortifying (deathly) effect upon both him and those around him: upon being taken into his chamber, Mary again becomes "a stiff, plain, silent child."
One of the book's underlying motifs is the way in which happiness begets happiness, and misery begets only more of itself: therefore, the fact that Master Craven is sad ensures that he will continue to be sad, and will make those around him similarly dismal. The source of this notion can be found in Burnett's fascination with the New Thought and Christian Science movements, which held that one must think only positive thoughts if one wants good things to happen. The fact that this idea is patently false miraculously did nothing to deter its adherents.
Master Craven's constitutional sickness is further borne out by his constant travel "in foreign places." In the economy of the novel, all life and joy are contained on Missel Moor, and thus to travel is a sign of illness. To leave the moor is to condemn oneself to suffering.
It is significant that Archibald's interest in Mary is the result of Susan Sowerby's intervention: along with the gift of the jump rope, this incident indicates that Mrs. Sowerby has "adopted" Mary, sight unseen. She is the mother figure of which Mary has heretofore been deprived, and is presented as a stark contrast to both her own mother and all the women she has known. Mary herself remarks that Susan is "not at all like the mothers in India": she is supernaturally nurturing, and has produced a staggering fourteen children of her own. In her purity and simplicity, she is the quintessential "earth mother" - that is, she is aligned with both nature and with the idea of motherhood itself.
Mary's relationship with Dickon is further eroticized here: when Martha asks Mary about her meeting with Dickon, she can only exclaim that she "thinks he's beautiful." He, like the garden, seems to her to be a "fairy-tale"; only his note (whose atrocious spelling provides another indication of the extreme class difference between the two children) proves that he truly exists. This note again compares Mary to a bird, and the garden to a nest—an association that will gain in importance in later chapters, when the nest becomes both Mary's and Dickon's—thereby making their friendship an explicitly romantic one.
Ace your assignments with our guide to The Secret Garden!