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WHEN THE SUN WENT DOWN
When his head was out of sight Colin turned to Mary.
“Go and meet him,” he said; and Mary flew across the grass to the door under the ivy.
Dickon was watching him with sharp eyes. There were scarlet spots on his cheeks and he looked amazing, but he showed no signs of falling.
“I can stand,” he said, and his head was still held up and he said it quite grandly.
“I told thee tha’ could as soon as tha’ stopped bein’ afraid,” answered Dickon. “An’ tha’s stopped.”
“Yes, I’ve stopped,” said Colin.
Then suddenly he remembered something Mary had said.
“Are you making Magic?” he asked sharply.
Dickon’s curly mouth spread in a cheerful grin.
“Tha’s doin’ Magic thysel’,” he said. “It’s same Magic as made these ‘ere work out o’ th’ earth,” and he touched with his thick boot a clump of crocuses in the grass. Colin looked down at them.
“Aye,” he said slowly, “there couldna’ be bigger Magic than that there—there couldna’ be.”
He drew himself up straighter than ever.
“I’m going to walk to that tree,” he said, pointing to one a few feet away from him. “I’m going to be standing when Weatherstaff comes here. I can rest against the tree if I like. When I want to sit down I will sit down, but not before. Bring a rug from the chair.”
He walked to the tree and though Dickon held his arm he was wonderfully steady. When he stood against the tree trunk it was not too plain that he supported himself against it, and he still held himself so straight that he looked tall.
When Ben Weatherstaff came through the door in the wall he saw him standing there and he heard Mary muttering something under her breath.
“What art sayin’?” he asked rather testily because he did not want his attention distracted from the long thin straight boy figure and proud face.
But she did not tell him. What she was saying was this:
“You can do it! You can do it! I told you you could! You can do it! You can do it! You can!” She was saying it to Colin because she wanted to make Magic and keep him on his feet looking like that. She could not bear that he should give in before Ben Weatherstaff. He did not give in. She was uplifted by a sudden feeling that he looked quite beautiful in spite of his thinness. He fixed his eyes on Ben Weatherstaff in his funny imperious way.
“Look at me!” he commanded. “Look at me all over! Am I a hunchback? Have I got crooked legs?”
Ben Weatherstaff had not quite got over his emotion, but he had recovered a little and answered almost in his usual way.
“Not tha’,” he said. “Nowt o’ th’ sort. What’s tha’ been doin’ with thysel’—hidin’ out o’ sight an’ lettin’ folk think tha’ was cripple an’ half-witted?”
“Half-witted!” said Colin angrily. “Who thought that?”
“Lots o’ fools,” said Ben. “Th’ world’s full o’ jackasses brayin’ an’ they never bray nowt but lies. What did tha’ shut thysel’ up for?”
“Everyone thought I was going to die,” said Colin shortly. “I’m not!”
And he said it with such decision Ben Weatherstaff looked him over, up and down, down and up.
“Tha’ die!” he said with dry exultation. “Nowt o’ th’ sort! Tha’s got too much pluck in thee. When I seed thee put tha’ legs on th’ ground in such a hurry I knowed tha’ was all right. Sit thee down on th’ rug a bit young Mester an’ give me thy orders.”
There was a queer mixture of crabbed tenderness and shrewd understanding in his manner. Mary had poured out speech as rapidly as she could as they had come down the Long Walk. The chief thing to be remembered, she had told him, was that Colin was getting well—getting well. The garden was doing it. No one must let him remember about having humps and dying.
The Rajah condescended to seat himself on a rug under the tree.
“What work do you do in the gardens, Weatherstaff?” he inquired.
“Anythin’ I’m told to do,” answered old Ben. “I’m kep’ on by favor—because she liked me.”
“She?” said Colin.
“Tha’ mother,” answered Ben Weatherstaff.
“My mother?” said Colin, and he looked about him quietly. “This was her garden, wasn’t it?”
“Aye, it was that!” and Ben Weatherstaff looked about him too. “She were main fond of it.”
“It is my garden now. I am fond of it. I shall come here every day,” announced Colin. “But it is to be a secret. My orders are that no one is to know that we come here. Dickon and my cousin have worked and made it come alive. I shall send for you sometimes to help—but you must come when no one can see you.”
Ben Weatherstaff’s face twisted itself in a dry old smile.
“I’ve come here before when no one saw me,” he said.
“What!” exclaimed Colin.
“Th’ last time I was here,” rubbing his chin and looking round, “was about two year’ ago.”
“But no one has been in it for ten years!” cried Colin.
“There was no door!”
“I’m no one,” said old Ben dryly. “An’ I didn’t come through th’ door. I come over th’ wall. Th’ rheumatics held me back th’ last two year’.”
“Tha’ come an’ did a bit o’ prunin’!” cried Dickon. “I couldn’t make out how it had been done.”
“She was so fond of it—she was!” said Ben Weatherstaff slowly. “An’ she was such a pretty young thing. She says to me once, ‘Ben,’ says she laughin’, ‘if ever I’m ill or if I go away you must take care of my roses.’ When she did go away th’ orders was no one was ever to come nigh. But I come,” with grumpy obstinacy. “Over th’ wall I come—until th’ rheumatics stopped me—an’ I did a bit o’ work once a year. She’d gave her order first.”
“It wouldn’t have been as wick as it is if tha’ hadn’t done it,” said Dickon. “I did wonder.”
“I’m glad you did it, Weatherstaff,” said Colin. “You’ll know how to keep the secret.”
“Aye, I’ll know, sir,” answered Ben. “An’ it’ll be easier for a man wi’ rheumatics to come in at th’ door.”
On the grass near the tree Mary had dropped her trowel. Colin stretched out his hand and took it up. An odd expression came into his face and he began to scratch at the earth. His thin hand was weak enough but presently as they watched him—Mary with quite breathless interest—he drove the end of the trowel into the soil and turned some over.
“You can do it! You can do it!” said Mary to herself. “I tell you, you can!”
Dickon’s round eyes were full of eager curiousness but he said not a word. Ben Weatherstaff looked on with interested face.
Colin persevered. After he had turned a few trowelfuls of soil he spoke exultantly to Dickon in his best Yorkshire.
“Tha’ said as tha’d have me walkin’ about here same as other folk—an’ tha’ said tha’d have me diggin’. I thowt tha’ was just leein’ to please me. This is only th’ first day an’ I’ve walked—an’ here I am diggin’.”
Ben Weatherstaff’s mouth fell open again when he heard him, but he ended by chuckling.
“Eh!” he said, “that sounds as if tha’d got wits enow. Tha’rt a Yorkshire lad for sure. An’ tha’rt diggin’, too. How’d tha’ like to plant a bit o’ somethin’? I can get thee a rose in a pot.”
“Go and get it!” said Colin, digging excitedly. “Quick! Quick!”
It was done quickly enough indeed. Ben Weatherstaff went his way forgetting rheumatics. Dickon took his spade and dug the hole deeper and wider than a new digger with thin white hands could make it. Mary slipped out to run and bring back a watering-can. When Dickon had deepened the hole Colin went on turning the soft earth over and over. He looked up at the sky, flushed and glowing with the strangely new exercise, slight as it was.
“I want to do it before the sun goes quite—quite down,” he said.
Mary thought that perhaps the sun held back a few minutes just on purpose. Ben Weatherstaff brought the rose in its pot from the greenhouse. He hobbled over the grass as fast as he could. He had begun to be excited, too. He knelt down by the hole and broke the pot from the mould.
“Here, lad,” he said, handing the plant to Colin. “Set it in the earth thysel’ same as th’ king does when he goes to a new place.”
The thin white hands shook a little and Colin’s flush grew deeper as he set the rose in the mould and held it while old Ben made firm the earth. It was filled in and pressed down and made steady. Mary was leaning forward on her hands and knees. Soot had flown down and marched forward to see what was being done. Nut and Shell chattered about it from a cherry-tree.
“It’s planted!” said Colin at last. “And the sun is only slipping over the edge. Help me up, Dickon. I want to be standing when it goes. That’s part of the Magic.”
And Dickon helped him, and the Magic—or whatever it was—so gave him strength that when the sun did slip over the edge and end the strange lovely afternoon for them there he actually stood on his two feet—laughing.
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