Rhyme and Reason: The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett

Rhyme and Reason is where the excerpts I enjoy, from books I’m currently reading, come to live.

The Secret Garden has been on my to-read list for a very long time, and on my tablet since last November. I started reading it earlier this week on the train back home from a weekend in Goa. The only reason I got around to it was because I had already finished the book I was carrying (Money for Nothing by P. G. Wodehouse) on the same train ride and had nothing else to read. And I’m so glad I had this book because I’m absolutely loving it. It has just the right balance of childlike wonder, gentle storytelling, magical descriptions, and a couple of kids who have to deal with the consequences of their spoiled brattiness, and are thus hugely interesting characters. This scene in particular made me laugh because of the way the main character and original brat, Mary, refuses to let her cousin (and new brat-in-chief), Colin, get his way as he’s accustomed to. You can read the book on Project Gutenberg here.

the secret garden

She thought it was the middle of the night when she was awakened by such dreadful sounds that she jumped out of bed in an instant. What was it—what was it? The next minute she felt quite sure she knew. Doors were opened and shut and there were hurrying feet in the corridors and some one was crying and screaming at the same time, screaming and crying in a horrible way.

“It’s Colin,” she said. “He’s having one of those tantrums the nurse called hysterics. How awful it sounds.”

As she listened to the sobbing screams she did not wonder that people were so frightened that they gave him his own way in everything rather than hear them. She put her hands over her ears and felt sick and shivering.

“I don’t know what to do. I don’t know what to do,” she kept saying. “I can’t bear it.”

Once she wondered if he would stop if she dared go to him and then she remembered how he had driven her out of the room and thought that perhaps the sight of her might make him worse. Even when she pressed her hands more tightly over her ears she could not keep the awful sounds out. She hated them so and was so terrified by them that suddenly they began to make her angry and she felt as if she should like to fly into a tantrum herself and frighten him as he was frightening her. She was not used to any one’s tempers but her own. She took her hands from her ears and sprang up and stamped her foot.

“He ought to be stopped! Somebody ought to make him stop! Somebody ought to beat him!” she cried out.

Just then she heard feet almost running down the corridor and her door opened and the nurse came in. She was not laughing now by any means. She even looked rather pale.

“He’s worked himself into hysterics,” she said in a great hurry. “He’ll do himself harm. No one can do anything with him. You come and try, like a good child. He likes you.”

“He turned me out of the room this morning,” said Mary, stamping her foot with excitement.

The stamp rather pleased the nurse. The truth was that she had been afraid she might find Mary crying and hiding her head under the bed-clothes.

“That’s right,” she said. “You’re in the right humor. You go and scold him. Give him something new to think of. Do go, child, as quick as ever you can.”

It was not until afterward that Mary realized that the thing had been funny as well as dreadful—that it was funny that all the grown-up people were so frightened that they came to a little girl just because they guessed she was almost as bad as Colin himself.

She flew along the corridor and the nearer she got to the screams the higher her temper mounted. She felt quite wicked by the time she reached the door. She slapped it open with her hand and ran across the room to the four-posted bed.

“You stop!” she almost shouted. “You stop! I hate you! Everybody hates you! I wish everybody would run out of the house and let you scream yourself to death! You will scream yourself to death in a minute, and I wish you would!” A nice sympathetic child could neither have thought nor said such things, but it just happened that the shock of hearing them was the best possible thing for this hysterical boy whom no one had ever dared to restrain or contradict.

He had been lying on his face beating his pillow with his hands and he actually almost jumped around, he turned so quickly at the sound of the furious little voice. His face looked dreadful, white and red and swollen, and he was gasping and choking; but savage little Mary did not care an atom.

“If you scream another scream,” she said, “I’ll scream too—and I can scream louder than you can and I’ll frighten you, I’ll frighten you!”

The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett

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