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She was quite right, the comfortable wonderful mother creature--and she had never been more so than when she said their "play actin'" would be their joy. Colin and Mary found it one of their most thrilling sources of entertainment. The idea of protecting themselves from suspicion had been unconsciously suggested to them first by the puzzled nurse and then by Dr. Craven himself.
"Your appetite. Is improving very much, Master Colin," the nurse had said one day. "You used to eat nothing, and so many things disagreed with you."
"Nothing disagrees with me now" replied Colin, and then seeing the nurse looking at him curiously he suddenly remembered that perhaps he ought not to appear too well just yet. "At least things don't so often disagree with me. It's the fresh air."
"Perhaps it is," said the nurse, still looking at him with a mystified expression. "But I must talk to Dr. Craven about it."
"How she stared at you!" said Mary when she went away. "As if she thought there must be something to find out."
"I won't have her finding out things," said Colin. "No one must begin to find out yet." When Dr. Craven came that morning he seemed puzzled, also. He asked a number of questions, to Colin's great annoyance.
"You stay out in the garden a great deal," he suggested. "Where do you go?"
Colin put on his favorite air of dignified indifference to opinion.
"I will not let any one know where I go," he answered. "I go to a place I like. Every one has orders to keep out of the way. I won't be watched and stared at. You know that!"
"You seem to be out all day but I do not think it has done you harm--I do not think so. The nurse says that you eat much more than you have ever done before."
"Perhaps," said Colin, prompted by a sudden inspiration, "perhaps it is an unnatural appetite."
"I do not think so, as your food seems to agree with you," said Dr. Craven. "You are gaining flesh rapidly and your color is better."
"Perhaps--perhaps I am bloated and feverish," said Colin, assuming a discouraging air of gloom. "People who are not going to live are often--different." Dr. Craven shook his head. He was holding Colin's wrist and he pushed up his sleeve and felt his arm.
"You are not feverish," he said thoughtfully, "and such flesh as you have gained is healthy. If you can keep this up, my boy, we need not talk of dying. Your father will be happy to hear of this remarkable improvement."
"I won't have him told!" Colin broke forth fiercely. "It will only disappoint him if I get worse again--and I may get worse this very night. I might have a raging fever. I feel as if I might be beginning to have one now. I won't have letters written to my father--I won't--I won't! You are making me angry and you know that is bad for me. I feel hot already. I hate being written about and being talked over as much as I hate being stared at!"
"Hush-h! my boy," Dr. Craven soothed him. "Nothing shall be written without your permission. You are too sensitive about things. You must not undo the good which has been done."
He said no more about writing to Mr. Craven and when he saw the nurse he privately warned her that such a possibility must not be mentioned to the patient.
"The boy is extraordinarily better," he said. "His advance seems almost abnormal. But of course he is doing now of his own free will what we could not make him do before. Still, he excites himself very easily and nothing must be said to irritate him." Mary and Colin were much alarmed and talked together anxiously. From this time dated their plan of "play actin'."
"I may be obliged to have a tantrum," said Colin regretfully. "I don't want to have one and I'm not miserable enough now to work myself into a big one. Perhaps I couldn't have one at all. That lump doesn't come in my throat now and I keep thinking of nice things instead of horrible ones. But if they talk about writing to my father I shall have to do something."
He made up his mind to eat less, but unfortunately it was not possible to carry out this brilliant idea when he wakened each morning with an amazing appetite and the table near his sofa was set with a breakfast of home-made bread and fresh butter, snow-white eggs, raspberry jam and clotted cream. Mary always breakfasted with him and when they found themselves at the table--particularly if there were delicate slices of sizzling ham sending forth tempting odors from under a hot silver cover--they would look into each other's eyes in desperation.
"I think we shall have to eat it all this morning, Mary," Colin always ended by saying. "We can send away some of the lunch and a great deal of the dinner."
But they never found they could send away anything and the highly polished condition of the empty plates returned to the pantry awakened much comment.
"I do wish," Colin would say also, "I do wish the slices of ham were thicker, and one muffin each is not enough for any one."
"It's enough for a person who is going to die," answered Mary when first she heard this, "but it's not enough for a person who is going to live. I sometimes feel as if I could eat three when those nice fresh heather and gorse smells from the moor come pouring in at the open window."
The morning that Dickon--after they had been enjoying themselves in the garden for about two hours--went behind a big rosebush and brought forth two tin pails and revealed that one was full of rich new milk with cream on the top of it, and that the other held cottage-made currant buns folded in a clean blue and white napkin, buns so carefully tucked in that they were still hot, there was a riot of surprised joyfulness. What a wonderful thing for Mrs. Sowerby to think of! What a kind, clever woman she must be! How good the buns were! And what delicious fresh milk!
"Magic is in her just as it is in Dickon," said Colin. "It makes her think of ways to do things--nice things. She is a Magic person. Tell her we are grateful, Dickon--extremely grateful." He was given to using rather grown-up phrases at times. He enjoyed them. He liked this so much that he improved upon it.
"Tell her she has been most bounteous and our gratitude is extreme."
And then forgetting his grandeur he fell to and stuffed himself with buns and drank milk out of the pail in copious draughts in the manner of any hungry little boy who had been taking unusual exercise and breathing in moorland air and whose breakfast was more than two hours behind him.
This was the beginning of many agreeable incidents of the same kind. They actually awoke to the fact that as Mrs. Sowerby had fourteen people to provide food for she might not have enough to satisfy two extra appetites every day. So they asked her to let them send some of their shillings to buy things.
Dickon made the stimulating discovery that in the wood in the park outside the garden where Mary had first found him piping to the wild creatures there was a deep little hollow where you could build a sort of tiny oven with stones and roast potatoes and eggs in it. Roasted eggs were a previously unknown luxury and very hot potatoes with salt and fresh butter in them were fit for a woodland king --besides being deliciously satisfying. You could buy both potatoes and eggs and eat as many as you liked without feeling as if you were taking food out of the mouths of fourteen people.
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The Secret Garden -by- Frances Hodgson Burnett