Stage 1 (Novice) : The Secret Garden, chapter 1

Author: Frances Hodgeson Burnett

Retold by Tanisha Pande


When Mary Lennox was sent to Misselthwaite Manor to live with her uncle, everyone said she was the most unpleasant child ever.

With her sour, yellow face and imperious(1) eyes, she grew up in India – the daughter of a young officer and his pretty wife– waited on by many servants. She was always ill, selfish and angry.

Why had she been sent to England, you may wonder? Well, Mary Lennox was just living her normal, selfish life in India when one hot morning, she woke up to find a new maid next to her. “Why did you come?” she asked, narrowing her eyes. “I don’t want you; where is my Ayah(2)? Send her to me.”

The frightened woman stammered an excuse, sending the girl into a tantrum. Enraged, Mary stormed off to the back garden and played with her flowers, muttering under her breath as she ignored the commotion that was going on around her.

Suddenly, her mother’s low, scared voice interrupted her game.

Glancing up, the young girl saw her talking to a young man on the porch.

Cholera(3)!” she exclaimed, covering her mouth. Distressed, the two rushed inside the house.

Frightened, Mary went back inside and fell asleep. She stayed inside the next day, ignoring the confusion until her stomach grumbled. No one had come the night before and the abandoned girl was not happy. Angrily, she wandered outside her room and into the empty room until she came across a uniformed man.


“Excuse me! I am Mary Lennox and I just woke up. Why is no one here? Why has nobody come?” she asked, stamping her foot.


The man jumped up, startled. “Christ – it’s the child no one ever saw!” he cried, pausing, then glanced away, a sad frown on his lips.

“Poor child! There’s no one left to come.”

In that strange way, Mary found out about her parents’ sudden death. They had been carried away in the night by cholera – that frightful disease – and so she was sent away to her Uncle’s home on the English moor.


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The voyage(4) was long and Mary entertained herself by imagining her mysterious uncle.  Rumours of an ill-tempered hunchback(5) swirled in her mind.

When she arrived, she was greeted at the port by a stern old woman called Mrs.Medlock.

Mrs. Medlock was the housekeeper of Misselthwaite Manor. She collected Mary’ things, and they set off towards a carriage which was waiting outside.

After what seemed like an age, Mary finally arrived at a gloomy manor on the moor (6).

“A strange place,” Medlock had described it. With a master who was  “a sour young man until he was married. And ten times sourer since she died in his garden. Why, he was so broken down that he locked that garden up and buried the keys.”

“You’re to go to your room and stay there. Do not go wandering around. Ever.” Mrs.Medlock warned.

Mary instantly went into her room and fell asleep.



As Mary rose the next morning, she noticed a young woman kneeling on the rug, humming as she cleaned the floor. The woman glanced up and smiled.


“Ah, you’re awake,” she greeted, rising to her feet. “You’re the young one from India, right?”

Mary stared. “Are you going to be my servant?”

The woman laughed. “I’m Mrs. Medlock’s servant. My name is Martha. ”

“But who is going to dress me?” Mary scowled.

Martha stared in surprise. “Is that how it is in India? Young girls can’t even dress themselves there?”


The disagreeable girl immediately became very angry. Martha’s eyes widened before softening as Mary threw herself on her bed, sobbing violently.

“I was wrong,” she apologised, coaxing(7) the girl out. “Come eat some breakfast. You must be hungry.”

Mary picked at a piece of toast sullenly(8) as the housemaid described her family to her. She talked without pausing, and Mary found herself interested at the mentioning of a brother called Dickon and his many pets.

“He’s always going outside on the moors,” Martha finished.

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Inspired by this story, Mary stood up and said that she, too, was going to go outside and explore.

Despite the winter chill, Mary continued to walk through the kitchen gardens and passed
many green doors. She wondered where the locked garden was. It sounded so mysterious and interesting.

A cheery chirp startled her out of her thoughts as she stumbled forward, eyes landing on a red robin(9) perched on a tree. It looked very pretty and intelligent.


“Do you know that pretty bird?” she asked the gardener.

“Do you mean him?” he asked, pointing at the robin and whistling.

The robin instantly landed at the old man’s feet, hopping from side to side.

“He’s a robin redbreast – one of the most friendly birds. Just as friendly as dogs,” the man laughed.


Mary nodded, gazing at the bird. She suddenly felt sad.

“I’m lonely,” she admitted.


The gardener looked at her closely.

“It’s all right, child,” he said “I’m Ben Weatherstaff. Lonely too, and with a bad temper. We’re not so different, you and I. But he’d still be your friend. I think he likes you. Last person he responded to like that was Dickon.” Ben nodded towards the robin.

“Oh, I would love to become friends with Dickon” said Mary. Then suddenly, a strange though entered her head:


“Do you live in the locked up garden?” she asked the robin.

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The gardener became quite angry :

“There’s no such garden! Keep your nose where it belongs, missus,” he growled, walking away without a goodbye.



Mary’s daily life at Misselthwaite quickly developed into a routine: seeing Martha, eating breakfast in the nursery and walking around the grounds. The moor air breathed new life into her, and she was not as sick and sour-looking as before.


She was always eager to meet her robin.


“Good morning! Isn’t the wind nice? Isn’t the sun nice? Let us both chirp and hop and twitter!” she laughed and hopped along with the bird.

Suddenly, Mary stumbled to a halt as the bird slowed down ahead, gazing at the section he had flown over.

“It’s the garden without a door! He lives in there,” she exclaimed to herself “How I wish I could get in there.”

At lunch, she questioned Martha:

“Martha, what do you know about the garden without a door? My Uncle’s wife’s garden? Why doesn’t he let anyone in?”

“Well,” Martha said “His wife loved the garden and he adored her. She spent so much time there–growing flowers and relaxing. One afternoon his wife was sitting beneath a tree and one of the branches broke off, hitting her. It hurt her so badly that she died the next day.”

The two fell silent. Suddenly, Mary heard a strange sound. It was low and piteous(10).

“Do you hear anyone crying?” she asked.

The housemaid shook her head. “It must be the wind.”

The sound, however, became clouder, clearer and more distinct. Mary said:

“There! I told you so! It is someone crying. I know it is!”

“No! It was the wind and if not, it was probably a maid crying about a toothache,” Martha repeated, stubbornly shaking her head.

Mary stared at her. Martha was lying and it troubled the girl as she could not figure out why.


  1. Imperious (adj) : arrogant, haughty
  2. Ayah (n) : a nursemaid working for Europeans in India
  3. Cholera(n): Anacute infectious disease of the small intestine, caused by the bacterium Vibrio cholerae and characterized by profuse watery diarrhea, vomiting, muscle cramps, severe  It usually led to death in Victorian times.
  4. Voyage : a long journey by sea
  5. Hunchback (n) : a person with a humpback
  6. Moor : open land; not for farming
  7. Coaxing (Adj) – coax (v): to attempt to influence by gentle persuasion, flattery, etc
  8. Sullenly (adv) – sullen(Adj) :  bad tempered, gloomy, sulky
  9. Robin (n) :any of several small Old World birds having a red or reddish breast, especially Erithacus rubecula, of Europe
  10. Piteous (Adj) :pathetic, evoking pity and compassion





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