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.
The Secret Garden -by- Frances Hodgson Burnett