The Owl Post: A Bit of Earth

The Owl Post: A Bit of Earth

Deborah Cherrin April 6, 2020

Frances Hodgson Burnett wrote The Secret Garden in 1911. I just learned that initially it was not a novel at all but was serialised in ten issues (November 1910 – August 1911) of The American Magazine. At the time of her death in 1924, The Secret Garden had faded from memory and it did not become popular until later in the 2oth century, when it was recognized as a classic of children’s literature.

The Secret Garden still has the power to enchant us. Here is the scene where the orphan, Mary Lennox, meets her guardian for the first time.

“‘… Play out of doors as much as you like. It’s a big place, and you may go where you like and amuse yourself as you like. Is there anything you want?’ As if a sudden thought had struck him. ‘Do you want toys, books, dolls?’

‘Might I,’ quavered Mary, ‘might I have a bit of earth?’

In her eagerness she did not realize how queer the words would sound and that they were not the ones she had meant to say. Mr. Craven looked quite startled.

‘Earth!’ he repeated. ‘What do you mean?’

‘To plant seeds in–to make things grow–to see them come alive,’ Mary faltered.

He gazed at her a moment and then passed his hand quickly over his eyes.

‘Do you–care about gardens so much?’ he said slowly.

‘I didn’t know about them in India,’ said Mary. ‘I was always ill and tired, and it was so hot. I sometimes made little beds in the sand and stuck flowers in them. But here it is different.’

Mr. Craven got up and began to walk slowly across the room.

‘A bit of earth,’ he said to himself and Mary thought that somehow she must have reminded him of something. When he stopped and spoke to her his dark eyes looked almost soft and kind.

‘You can have as much earth as you want,’ he said. ‘You remind me of someone else who loved the earth and things that grow. When you see a bit of earth you want,’ with something like a smile, ‘take it, child, and make it come alive.’”

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