No one but Colin himself knew what effect those crossly spoken childish words had on him. If he had ever had any one to talk to about his secret terrors--if he had ever dared to let himself ask questions--if he had had childish companions and had not lain on his back in the huge closed house, breathing an atmosphere heavy with the fears of people who were most of them ignorant and tired of him, he would have found out that most of his fright and illness was created by himself. But he had lain and thought of himself and his aches and weariness for hours and days and months and years. And now that an angry unsympathetic little girl insisted obstinately that he was not as ill as he thought he was he actually felt as if she might be speaking the truth.
"I didn't know," ventured the nurse, "that he thought he had a lump on his spine. His back is weak because he won't try to sit up. I could have told him there was no lump there." Colin gulped and turned his face a little to look at her.
"C-could you?" he said pathetically.
"There!" said Mary, and she gulped too.
Colin turned on his face again and but for his long-drawn broken breaths, which were the dying down of his storm of sobbing, he lay still for a minute, though great tears srteamed down his face and wet the pillow. Actually the tears meant that a curious great relief had come to him. Presently he turned and looked at the nurse again and strangely enough he was not like a Rajah at all as he spoke to her.
"Do you think--I could--live to grow up?" he said.
The nurse was neither clever nor soft-hearted but she could repeat some of the London doctor's words.
"You probably will if you will do what you are told to do and not give way to your temper, and stay out a great deal in the fresh air."
Colin's tantrum had passed and he was weak and worn out with crying and this perhaps made him feel gentle. He put out his hand a little toward Mary, and I am glad to say that, her own tantum having passed, she was softened too and met him half-way with her hand, so that it was a sort of making up.
"I'll--I'll go out with you, Mary," he said. "I shan't hate fresh air if we can find--" He remembered just in time to stop himself from saying "if we can find the secret garden" and he ended, "I shall like to go out with you if Dickon will come and push my chair. I do so want to see Dickon and the fox and the crow."
The nurse remade the tumbled bed and shook and straightened the pillows. Then she made Colin a cup of beef tea and gave a cup to Mary, who really was very glad to get it after her excitement. Mrs. Medlock and Martha gladly slipped away, and after everything was neat and calm and in order the nurse looked as if she would very gladly slip away also. She was a healthy young woman who resented being robbed of her sleep and she yawned quite openly as she looked at Mary, who had pushed her big footstool close to the four-posted bed and was holding Colin's hand.
"You must go back and get your sleep out," she said. "He'll drop off after a while--if he's not too upset. Then I'll lie down myself in the next room."
"Would you like me to sing you that song I learned from my Ayah?" Mary whispered to Colin.
His hand pulled hers gently and he turned his tired eyes on her appealingly.
"Oh, yes!" he answered. "It's such a soft song. I shall go to sleep in a minute."
"I will put him to sleep," Mary said to the yawning nurse. "You can go if you like."
"Well," said the nurse, with an attempt at reluctance. "If he doesn't go to sleep in half an hour you must call me."
"Very well," answered Mary.
The nurse was out of the room in a minute and as soon as she was gone Colin pulled Mary's hand again.
"I almost told," he said; "but I stopped myself in time. I won't talk and I'll go to sleep, but you said you had a whole lot of nice things to tell me. Have you--do you think you have found out anything at all about the way into the secret garden?"
Mary looked at his poor little tired face and swollen eyes and her heart relented.
"Ye-es," she answered, "I think I have. And if you will go to sleep I will tell you tomorrow." His hand quite trembled.
"Oh, Mary!" he said. "Oh, Mary! If I could get into it I think I should live to grow up! Do you suppose that instead of singing the Ayah song--you could just tell me softly as you did that first day what you imagine it looks like inside? I am sure it will make me go to sleep."
"Yes," answered Mary. "Shut your eyes."
He closed his eyes and lay quite still and she held his hand and began to speak very slowly and in a very low voice.
"I think it has been left alone so long--that it has grown all into a lovely tangle. I think the roses have climbed and climbed and climbed until they hang from the branches and walls and creep over the ground--almost like a strange gray mist. Some of them have died but many--are alive and when the summer comes there will be curtains and fountains of roses. I think the ground is full of daffodils and snowdrops and lilies and iris working their way out of the dark. Now the spring has begun--perhaps--perhaps--"
The soft drone of her voice was making him stiller and stiller and she saw it and went on.
"Perhaps they are coming up through the grass--perhaps there are clusters of purple crocuses and gold ones--even now. Perhaps the leaves are beginning to break out and uncurl--and perhaps--the gray is changing and a green gauze veil is creeping--and creeping over--everything. And the birds are coming to look at it--because it is--so safe and still. And perhaps--perhaps--perhaps--" very softly and slowly indeed, "the robin has found a mate--and is building a nest."
And Colin was asleep.
The Secret Garden -by- Frances Hodgson Burnett